Orleus Louima made his way from Haiti to the United States by way of the Bahamas in 1989. While riding the bus during a 2007 visit to his homeland, he met the woman who would become his wife. They exchanged phone numbers, began a courtship and in 2009, Louima wed Suze Cadet. But the couple have yet to reside under the same roof because his attempts to bring his bride to America have been in vain.
That could soon change. Louima, 67, was on hand on Tuesday as Congresswoman Frederica Wilson announced the implementation of the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program at a press conference while standing in front of The Torch of Friendship in downtown Miami.
“This is a historic moment,” Wilson said about the program that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will implement in early 2015 to expedite family reunification for certain eligible Haitian family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents of the U.S.
Wilson said that since 2010, when Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake that left 250,000 dead and caused $14 billion in damages, she had written several letters to President Obama requesting the program that would allow many Haitians to legally join families in the U.S. Although she said that he constantly assured her that something was being done, it wasn’t until July that she received “my most promising response.”
In the letter from Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Wilson was informed that “The White House has asked the Department of Homeland Security to respond to you.” And on October 17, the department announced its plans to implement the program.
Wilson was joined at the press conference by Marleine Bastien, president of the Haitian Women of Miami (FANM).
“With courage, dedication and perseverance we’ve made it half way. I say half way because only those with priority dates for within the next two years now qualify. Why this distinction, we don’t know. Suffice it to say that we will continue to fight,” said Bastien, who credited the bipartisan delegation of Wilson, a Democrat, Republicans Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehitan and Congressman Mario Diaz Balart and Democratic congressmen Alcee Hastings and Joe Garcia with supporting the initiative.
Bastien said that she plans to keep a close eye on the process.
“We want to make sure that the regulations will be clear, simple and that the fees will be reasonable enough so as not to hinder the implementation process. This is the first step, the fight is not over,” she said.
One of South Florida’s most prominent immigration advocates, Cheryl Little, expressed frustration that the government took so long to approve the program. Little is the founder and executive director of Americans for Immigrant Justice, (formerly Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Inc.).
“Family unity is supposed to be the cornerstone of our immigration laws, the heart and soul of our immigration laws, and yet over 100,000 Haitians have languished in Haiti, some for 10 years or longer waiting to be reunited with their loved ones here in the United States,” Little said of Haitians who have had their visas approved, but were still denied entry to the U.S. “We are urging Congress to do something about our broken immigration system.”
Steve Forester, immigration policy coordinator for the nonprofit Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, expressed cautious optimism and noted that the initiative differs from other immigrant reunification programs.
“It’s nothing like the ongoing Cuban program under which tens of thousands have been paroled; but it’s a limited victory which we’ll have to fight to expand and to make sure that they implement it properly. Our foot’s in the door,” he said.
“I look forward to personally welcoming and rolling out the red carpet for the first wave of recipients of this program. I can hardly wait to see them get off the plane and come to the United States of America,” said Wilson.
Louima said that he’s ready for his wife to join him.
“I apply for my wife in 2010, that’s enough, I want to get my wife,” he said.
Michelle Hollinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org