MIAMI — Vice President Joe Biden was all ears on a visit Monday to Little Haiti, reiterating the Obama administration's commitment to Haiti and promising to follow up on concerns by Haitian-Americans who want to be involved in their homeland's rebirth following the devastating earthquake.
"We are going to work with the people of Haiti, we are going to work with the diaspora, we are going to work with all of you," Biden said, telling two dozen Haitian-Americans that the administration was in it for the long haul.
Biden first met with South Florida's Haitian community days after a Jan. 12 earthquake struck Haiti. He returned Monday as promised, walking around the U-shaped room inside the Little Haiti Cultural Center, greeting each of the 26 in attendance as if they were old friends.
Last week, the United States was among the largest donors for Haiti's reconstruction, pledging $1.15 billion over the next 18 months during an international donors conference at the United Nations. Even before the earthquake, the United States was Haiti's largest donor.
In total, foreign aid donors pledged nearly $5.3 billion toward Haiti's rebuilding, and $9.9 billion for the next decade. The amounts far exceeded what Haitian officials thought they would get, but it was still less than what Haitian government officials say their quake-ravaged country will need. They estimate that Haiti will need $11.5 billion for the next 18 months, and $34.4 billion over the next decade to build everything from hospitals to schools.
"We have no reduced commitment. The president continues to remain committed to rebuilding Haiti, and rebuilding it better," Biden said. "We made a promise and it is a promise just not to pick up the rubble but also to try and get Haiti on its feet, and quite frankly on their feet in a way they haven't been for some time."
At the top of activists' lists is the fate of an estimated 55,000 visa petitions the U.S. government has approved on behalf of Haitians to join their families in the United States. Haitian community activists say the administration can admit the Haitians under hardship exceptions without congressional approval.
"The families are here in the United States, they are waiting for them to come in, and I think the government understands they should expedite those visas as quickly as possible," North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre said. "The vice president said they are looking into it, which was very important for me."
Others shared their concerns about the lack of a voting seat for the diaspora on the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission that will guide Haiti's rebuilding. Haitians abroad sent an estimated $2 billion to Haiti — the size of the Haitian budget, or as Biden pointed out, 30 percent of the country's gross domestic product.