Press Release

Gillibrand, Kerry, Leahy, Lautenberg, Menendez Move To Reduce Backlog Of Visas For Haitians Struggling To Reunite With Their Families

Mar 4, 2011

Washington, DC –U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Kerry (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) announced today that they reintroduced legislation that would allow an estimated 35,000 Haitians who already have approved immigration petitions to join their relatives in the United States. The HELP Act would also provide the opportunity to apply for work, and send money back home. The bill, authored by Senator Gillibrand, would fast-track entrance into the U.S. for Haitian children and adults whose applications have been delayed due to the quake.

“Now that the cameras have left Haiti, we can’t let our compassion fade,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Families here at home still fear for the safety of their relatives in Haiti. This legislation allows those with approved petitions to finally unite with their U.S. relatives as quickly as possible. We cannot leave the Haitian people behind. We must remain steadfast in our mission to see Haiti recover, overcome and succeed.”

“I’ve heard tragic stories from many Haitians in Massachusetts who haven’t seen or heard from their loved ones for months and if bureaucracy is the only thing standing in the way then we need to fix it, end of story,” said Senator Kerry. “Our legislation creates a commonsense process to reunite families as quickly as possible.”

“Enacting this legislation is the right thing to do, both for humanitarian reasons and for Haiti’s recovery from the devastating earthquake of January 2010,” said Senator Leahy.  “Haitian families should be reunited through the lawful immigration process.  Once they are, these Haitian families will be better equipped to help their nation rebuild.”

“This bill would help the United States uphold our commitment to the people of Haiti struggling to recover from last year’s tragic earthquake,” said Senator Lautenberg. “Assisting Haitians whose immigration petitions are already approved would allow them to escape the devastation and reunite with their families in the United States.  This is an important step we can take to reunite Haitian families and keep our commitment to Haiti’s recovery.”

“Unimaginable devastation on Haiti brought an outpouring of support,” said Senator Menendez. “This legislation allows us to continue in that tradition – and helps families help our neighbors in Haiti put their lives back together. We continue to stand in solidarity with them and are working to deliver assistance.”

Legislation is co-sponsored by Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).  

The destruction of Port-au-Prince’s infrastructure and the potential public health crisis slowed the regular consular processing of Haitians with familial ties to the United States. The Gillibrand legislation – The Haitian Emergency Life Protection Act of 2011 (HELP Act) – would allow those persons, which include spouses and minor children of U.S. permanent residents, adult children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and married children, siblings, and their spouses of U.S. citizens, who already have approved family-based immigrant petitions and who meet the required security checks to join their families in the U.S. and work in the U.S. until they become eligible to adjust their status to permanent residents. V Visa recipients would not be eligible for unemployment benefits, Medicare or other federal services and must follow the regular process of applying for a green card.