A street in Punta Cana, a touristic city in the Dominican Republic, pictured in January 2023. Photo by Marvens Compère for Go West Now

Overview:

As the crisis in Haiti escalates, many Haitians with applications pending or approved for the Biden administration's humanitarian parole program are seeking temporary refuge or passage in the Dominican Republic. This is due to concerns that their departure from the Haitian capital might be obstructed. However, continuous disruptions, particularly in air travel, have heightened concerns over potential delays in application processing. This has led to considerable apprehension among applicants, who fear that their plans for safe relocation could be jeopardized.

KISSIMMEE— Haitian applicants and approved candidates for the Biden administration's Humanitarian Parole Program seek refuge in the neighboring Dominican Republic amid fears that the ongoing paralysis in the capital will hinder their departure from the country’s capital, which has been in turmoil for several weeks.

With the crisis intensifying, causing a halt to commercial flights to and from Haiti, they are taking desperate measures to avoid delayed approvals and ensure timely entry into the United States before their approvals expire.

Rosalie Amédée, a Haitian high school teacher, relocated to the Dominican Republic with her young daughter as they await the approval of their application.

“Leaving the capital for the DR was challenging. However, after a grueling journey fraught with encounters with armed gangs and ransom payments for safe passage, we managed to reach the eastern side of the Dominican Republic border with Haiti,” shared Amédée during a phone interview with the Haitian Times.

Jacquelyn Amédée, Rosalie's brother residing in Orlando, Florida, applied for her and her daughter in June 2023. The eldest Amédée has been living in the United States since the January 2010 earthquake and is a beneficiary of Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

The Humanitarian Parole Program, also known as “Pwogram Biden” among Haitians, allows eligible individuals to receive travel authorization to the United States, even if they are not currently in Haiti. Once approved, beneficiaries are responsible for securing their travel to the United States. However, the authorization, valid for 90 days, does not guarantee entry into the U.S. at a port of entry. U.S. Customs and Border Protection determines parole at the port of entry based on humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit. Additionally, this program is not available to those with permanent residence, citizenship, or refugee status in another country. Those with temporary status or visas are eligible to apply. To qualify, applicants must not have been ordered to leave the U.S. within the past five years.

“The waiting period for approval under the parole program has led some to choose dangerous alternatives, like the perilous journey through the Darien Gap.”

Jesse Lloyd, representative from the American Immigration Lawyers Association

The program permits up to 30,000 people monthly to enter the U.S. from four countries, including Haiti. By the end of February 2024, over 386,000 arrivals from these countries had been recorded by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Haiti's recent surge in gang attacks has exacerbated challenges for applicants and jeopardized their eligibility, making it difficult to maintain stable addresses, access necessary documentation, or attend required appointments.

The ongoing crisis has displaced more than 160,000 people, who now live in overcrowded conditions with limited access to basic necessities like clean water and sanitation according to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The closure of schools has disrupted the acquisition of important documents, while the healthcare system, which is already struggling due to a shortage of staff and medical supplies, is further hampered by delays in obtaining vital medical records and exams. Half of Haiti's population is battling acute hunger, which makes it difficult for malnourished applicants to meet the physical demands of the process.

Additionally, legal and policy barriers pose significant hurdles, with U.S. immigration policies causing delays in processing work authorizations. The shortened humanitarian parole terms leave many in limbo, exacerbating emotional distress among applicants, and prompting some to seek alternative safety routes.

“We've seen significant emotional distress among applicants,” said Jesse Lloyd, a representative from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). “

“The waiting period for approval under the parole program has led some to choose dangerous alternatives, like the perilous journey through the Darien Gap.”

The situation underscores the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to address displacement and violence in Haiti, as the international response falls short of funding goals. But as the violence escalates daily, other parole applicants like the Amédées persist in their journey, risking their safety to cross the neighboring borders before their approvals expire.

Award-winning journalist Fritznel D. Octave is a distinguished professional who serves as Haiti Editor of Go West Now. Dedicated with over 25 years of experience covering Haiti news, his book "Haiti Between Pestilence And Hope" is a testament to his unshakable commitment to impactful storytelling and social journalism. Issues he has tackled range widely from social justice and politics to environment, healthcare, and economics. Beyond journalism, Fritznel specializes in business growth strategy and personal development.

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