After Earthquake, Haitians Hoping For A Way Out Look To U.S. Embassy Haitians have been gathering in front of the U.S. embassy ever since the earthquake, desperate to get a flight out of their shattered country. Rumors are rife that almost any connection to the U.S. can win them a visa. But they are in for a disappointment.

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

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.


And Im Madeleine Brand.

Ever since the earthquake, Haitians have been gathering in front the U.S. Embassy desperate to get a flight out of their shattered country. The line seems to grow every day. Today, an estimated 2,000 people stood there. Rumors are flying through the streets that almost any connection to the U.S. can win you a visa.

As NPRs John Burnett reports, many Haitians are in for disappointment.

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

They start lining up at the consular office here before sunrise to ask, to beg for transit out of their broken city. Jean Joseph, who's a permanent resident in the U.S., stands in line to get visas for his little brother and sister, 20 and 18, who are not residents. They live here in Haiti.

Mr. JEAN JOSEPH: If you got, like, your parents, like, if you got all your family in U.S. and you got somebody, you know, afraid that you're here in Haiti, they're going to help you.

BURNETT: Theres 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 to the States at U.S. government expense. Lost or buried passports are not a problem, the person will still be in the U.S. database.

Margalita Belhumer is a Haitian-American living in New York City. She was here in her home country visiting when the quake hit nine days ago. She shades her eyes from the tropical sun. The girl squatting at her feet with a threadbare sweater over her head is eight-year-old Melissa.

Ms. MARGALITA BELHUMER: Im seeking to leave with my daughter because, well, usually where she stays, the people there are dead. The place is crumbled down. There is nothing left there. So, I have no way to leave her. So, I cant leave without her.

BURNETT: Margalita says she raised Melissa since the girl was a newborn infant wrapped in a sheet and left on the sidewalk in front of St. Josephs Catholic Church here. 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 says she's already begun the paperwork to adopt her.

Ms. BELHUMER: I started the adoption process, but I started it last month. But Ive had her since the first day she was born.

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

Mr. JOSEPH ETIENNE (Schoolteacher, Port-au-Prince, Haiti): (Foreign language spoken)

BURNETT: He says the Etienne family is sleeping under plantain trees since their home was pulverized. The family has no luggage with them, nothing because they lost everything in the quake. And what do they have to convince the consular office that he should let them into the U.S.? The schoolteacher reaches into his pocket and pulls out two slips of paper written with the names and addresses.

Mr. ETIENNE: (Foreign language spoken)

BURNETT: So he hopes with just names and address of in-laws in New Jersey that theyll let his family of 14 immigrate to the States.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah, they hope when they go through the line...

BURNETT: Deep within the cool, soundless embassy building is the office of U.S. Ambassador Ken Merten. In the midst of the crisis, the ambassador has been sleeping on a cot in his office with his beagle Sophie taking an easy chair. The ambassador has bad news for the Etienne family.

Ambassador KEN MERTEN (Haiti): We will tell him, unfortunately, sir, theres nothing we can do for you in this case. We are providing humanitarian aid and assistance, as well as, you know, medical assistance and if thats what you need, we hope you can benefit from that. But we are not able to facilitate peoples travel to the United States in a case like that.

BURNETT: After waiting hours in line the Etiennes, Margalita Belhumer and hundreds of other Haitians will have to return tomorrow for an answer to their immigration pleas. A Marine guard cut the line and told them there was no way they'd make it to a consular window today.

Unidentified Man #2: Lets go.

Unidentified Man #3: You guys got to move.

Unidentified Man #2: You guy got to keep going.

John Burnett, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

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