Haitians Hoping For A Way Out Look To U.S. Embassy

Margalita Belhumer and her daughter, Melissa, 8, stand outside the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince. i i

Margalita Belhumer (right) is seeking a U.S. visa for her 8-year-old daughter, Melissa. Belhumer, a Haitian-American, lives in New York City. She says she has raised Melissa since the girl was abandoned as an infant but had only recently started adoption paperwork. Marisa Penaloza/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Marisa Penaloza/NPR
Margalita Belhumer and her daughter, Melissa, 8, stand outside the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.

Margalita Belhumer (right) is seeking a U.S. visa for her 8-year-old daughter, Melissa. Belhumer, a Haitian-American, lives in New York City. She says she has raised Melissa since the girl was abandoned as an infant but had only recently started adoption paperwork.

Marisa Penaloza/NPR

Haitians have been gathering in front of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince since the Jan. 12 earthquake, desperate to get a flight out of their shattered country.

The line, which seems to grow every day, was estimated at 2,000 on Thursday. Rumors are flying through the streets that almost any connection to the U.S. can win a Haitian a visa. Many, however, are in for a disappointment.

Much of the capital has disintegrated into concrete chunks, but the gleaming white U.S. Embassy stands virtually untouched — a few light fixtures came loose inside. With its own power, water and sewage treatment, the brand-new embassy is a self-sufficient island of order in the bedlam of post-earthquake Haiti.

Haitians start lining up at the consular office before sunrise to ask — and beg — for transit out of their broken city.

Seeking Help

Jean Joseph, a U.S. permanent resident, stood in line to get visas for his younger brother and sister, 20 and 18, who live in Haiti.

"If you got your parents, like you got all your family in U.S. and you got somebody in Haiti, they going to help you," Joseph said.

  • Men move blocks of ice from the only functioning ice plant in the city. Without power, it's the only way to keep food cool.
    Hide caption
    Men move blocks of ice from the only functioning ice plant in the city. Without power, it's the only way to keep food cool.
    All photos by David Gilkey/NPR
  • The main produce market in Port-au-Prince is open Thursday, but sellers say people aren't buying because they don't have money and the banks are closed.
    Hide caption
    The main produce market in Port-au-Prince is open Thursday, but sellers say people aren't buying because they don't have money and the banks are closed.
  • A boy waits for food supplied by the U.S. Army at a golf club above the capital.
    Hide caption
    A boy waits for food supplied by the U.S. Army at a golf club above the capital.
  • Women stand in a line for water in a park turned refugee camp across from the National Palace Thursday.
    Hide caption
    Women stand in a line for water in a park turned refugee camp across from the National Palace Thursday.
  • Haitian National Police stand over patients in front of the National Palace waiting to be evacuated Thursday.
    Hide caption
    Haitian National Police stand over patients in front of the National Palace waiting to be evacuated Thursday.
  • A girl wears a tag that identifies her as a transfer patient to the USNS Comfort off the shore of Haiti.
    Hide caption
    A girl wears a tag that identifies her as a transfer patient to the USNS Comfort off the shore of Haiti.
  • U.S. soldiers transfer patients to a staging area in front of the National Palace.
    Hide caption
    U.S. soldiers transfer patients to a staging area in front of the National Palace.
  • Men walk across the roof of a collapsed supermarket in Port-au-Prince Wednesday.
    Hide caption
    Men walk across the roof of a collapsed supermarket in Port-au-Prince Wednesday.

1 of 8

View slideshow i

There's a rumor making its way around the capital that any Haitian with a relative in the U.S. can join his or her family. But U.S. officials say only Haitians with U.S. passports are being airlifted at U.S. government expense. Lost or buried passports are not a problem: The person will be in the U.S. database.

Margalita Belhumer, a Haitian-American who lives in New York City, was visiting Haiti when the quake struck nine days ago. She shaded her eyes from the tropical sun as her 8-year-old daughter, Melissa, squatted at her feet.

"I'm seeking to leave with my daughter. People are dead, place crumbled. She has nowhere to live, so I can't leave without her," Belhumer said.

She said she raised Melissa since the girl was a newborn infant, wrapped in a sheet and left on the sidewalk in front of St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Child abandonment by destitute mothers is not uncommon in Haiti. While Belhumer worked at her job as a security guard in New York, she paid a family to take care of Melissa. Belhumer said she had begun the adoption paperwork before the quake struck.

"I started the adoption process, but I started last month. But I've had her since the first day she was born," she said.

Bad News For Some

Standing nearby, a slim, courteous schoolteacher named Joseph Etienne brought 13 members of his family with him to stand in line in the 90-degree heat under the distrustful gaze of the embassy's Marine guards.

He said his family is sleeping under plantain trees since their home was pulverized. The family has no luggage with them because they lost everything in the quake.

In his pocket he carried two slips of paper with the names and addresses of in-laws in New Jersey. He hoped to persuades the consular officer to let his family of 14 enter the United States.

In the midst of the crisis, deep within the cool, soundless offices of the embassy building, Ambassador Kenneth Merten has been sleeping in his office, with his beagle, Sophie, taking an easy chair.

The ambassador has bad news for the Etienne family.

"We will tell him, 'Unfortunately, sir, there's nothing we can do for you. We're providing human aid and medical assistance and if that's what you need, we hope you can benefit from that.' But we can't facilitate people's travel to the U.S. in a case like that," Merten said.

The Etienne family and Belhumer will have to wait another day for an answer to their immigration requests. After waiting hours in line Thursday, they were among the Haitians told by a Marine guard there was no way they would make it to a consular window.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.