About two decades ago, Canada rolled out a policy recruiting Haitian professionals providing them with legal status and a job. The Haitians were a get for Canada, which was trying to increase the number of Francophones in their midst.
The Haitian Times wrote an editorial that while the policy was well intentioned, it robs Haiti of its much-needed professionals to move it forward. As expected, our phone lines were flooded with callers disagreeing with our position. Such brain drain had become a 5-year cycle and I have seen its deleterious impact on Haiti since people began fleeing in droves since the early 1970s.
Recently the Biden administration has rolled out its humanitarian parole program, under which 30,000 Haitians, Venezuelans, and Cubans per month will be allowed entry to the United States if they have someone to sponsor them.
President Biden’s move may be moved by empathy, but it is not purely altruistic. There is a political angle here at play. The Republicans have made the border crisis, real or imagined, as their new boogeyman to stir up their xenophobic base. They are looking to pounce at the slight uptick of Black and brown people asking for political asylum or refuge.
So instead of people lining up along the US-Mexico border, this program has created a virtual line, thereby blunting any criticism that the Republicans may throw the administration’s way. In so doing, Biden has eliminated at least one red meat issue that is part of the arsenal we know will be unleashed as the 2024 campaign rolls out.
But the policy fails to address some basic questions. When you sponsor a person to parole to the United States, what are your fiduciary responsibilities? What happens if things go sour between you and the parolee? Are there penalties if your financial conditions change and you cannot help the person? What happens if let’s say, a president Ron DeSantis decides to reverse this action under an executive order?
These are just a handful of things that I and many others in the community have been grappling with as they explore the possibility of sponsoring someone. Whatever the outcome, what is clear is that thousands of Haitians will be leaving Haiti for the proverbial better life. I know they will find it here and they will be productive citizens of the U.S.
Just recently, Miami celebrated the milestone of what is widely believed to be the 50 years of “boat people. Haitian culture is an integral part of South Florida identity.
In 1981, as a college freshman, I remember another “boat people” tragedy. It was the La Nativité, a rickety boat jammed pack with 63 refugees that crashed, killing 33 people, including two pregnant women. The story got national attention. Ten years after the incident, I was part of a team of reporters at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel where we set out to tell the survivors’ stories. We tracked some of them down and I went to the beach where the boat took off and interviewed them there. The series was submitted for a Pulitzer Prize, though we didn’t win it.
Still, our journey out of Haiti continues unabated. While I’m thrilled that some of my compatriots will have opportunities, at what cost to Haiti? The country needs technocrats and competent people to govern and provide some basic human rights – health care, education, liberty, security – and create the environment for a fair and just society.
This is a conundrum that Haiti has faced, and that the leaders have failed to address. So instead of providing for a better country, they quietly whisper their happiness because there are less mouths to feed and new remittances streaming into people’s pockets.
At times, it seems that only those of us out of Haiti care for it. From a distance, we romanticize our life back home and have convinced ourselves that it was better than it was. The pull of these majestic mountains and these indigo oceans is too magnetic to resist. We appear to want to return to Haiti as a diaspora, while those who live there can’t wait to escape this dreadful country.
In the late 1970s, during that migration wave, the top band was Skah Shah, a New York-based band beloved by everyone. My parents and their friends would socialize eating, drinking and listening to music. By the time they got to Skah Shah’s Haiti Cherie, the celebration had turned nostalgic. Here’s a sample from the song’s lyrics:
This morning I woke up, my eyes are open. There’s a pain sitting on my heart. I miss my country, Haiti my darling. I must take a bus to go to work, 2 lines of water are running out of my eyes Oh God, give me courage. People back home think about me. When I don’t write, they criticize me, unbeknownst to them that my heart is ripping apart. In New York, the sun doesn’t rise.
So why do we want to escape so badly if we love Haiti so much? Perhaps to love Haiti is to leave and return to Haiti. I do hope so.