little haiti vendors
Vendors sell goods at the corner of Newkirk and Nostrand avenues, the heartbeat of Brooklyn's Haitian community. Photo by Sam Bojarski
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Immigration bills introduced by President Joe Biden this year could provide permanent residency or citizenship status to thousands in New York City’s community of more than 3 million immigrants.

“It’s a very exciting moment and one that we know has been met with the introduction of incredibile pathways to citizenship that we hope will be realized,” said Bitta Mostofi, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), in a May 6 press briefing.

The Citizenship Act of 2021 creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and the American Dream and Promise Act offers Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders an opportunity to receive permanent residency status. Neither bill has passed the United States Congress to become law. But according to recent data from MOIA and research organizations, tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants would directly benefit from the legislation, based on their immigration status. 

“We estimate that up to 476,000 New Yorkers could benefit from [the Citizenship Act] should it pass Congress,” said Mostofi, speaking about the overall impact of the legislation. Up to 100,000 could become eligible for permanent residency through the Dream and Promise Act, she also said.

Each spring, MOIA publishes a “State of Our Immigrant City” report, which relies on U.S. Census numbers from the previous year to estimate immigrant populations. The 2020 report indicates a population of 83,384 Haitian immigrants, an increase from the 80,900 reported in 2019

This population, which includes naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, TPS holders and the undocumented, represents 2.8% of all foreign-born New York City residents. Haitians make up the eighth-largest group citywide. 

TPS holders are among the Haitians who stand to benefit the most from federal immigration reform. Among the many benefits of legal status or citizenship would be the opportunity for parents to obtain jobs with better benefits, said Stephanie Delia, an immigration attorney based in Queens Village. 

“When the parents are able to get a more secure job with more benefits, the children then get access to things they would not otherwise have,” said Delia, who serves Haitian clients in her private practice. “When one person gets [citizenship], it benefits a lot of other people in the household.” 

Among the nearly 100,000 New Yorkers who could benefit from the Dream and Promise Act are 18,000 people who hold TPS or DED and could become eligible for permanent residency.

Among those 18,000 residents, 16%, or nearly 3,000, were born in Haiti. TPS holders in New York City are heavily represented in essential occupations in the service industry, transportation and sales, according to city data

Think tanks have estimated that the undocumented Haitian population is likely more than 25,000 in New York. 

Obtaining citizenship can help reduce economic disparities among immigrants. Rates of poverty and lack of health insurance are the lowest for naturalized citizens, when compared to other immigration statuses. 

The federal immigration proposals “would really fundamentally change the makeup of families, but also outcomes, from a familial, social and economic perspective,” Mostofi said. 

Although Biden’s proposed immigration bills have not been signed into law, immigrants can get ready by preparing necessary documents. These include a legal birth certificate or tax filings to prove their residency in the U.S., Delia said. The Citizenship Act, for example, would apply only to undocumented immigrants who were in the country prior to Jan. 1 of this year.

“What people can do to prep for the Citizenship Act is get their documents in order,” Delia said. “While they can’t apply for anything yet, they can definitely start gathering presence documents and identity documents.”  

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America fellow. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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