The American Dream Found in the Rubble

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Her name is Margaray and she is a native of Haiti.  She lived near the town of Port-au-Prince with her three children – Philippe, Michaelle and Hans.  Her husband was deceased and she was doing her best to raise her sons alone.  Margaray lived in a small, run-down, ramshackle home in an area that by many accounts could be considered a slum.   Then, on January 12, 2010, a major earthquake struck.  Homes were reduced to rubble and the dying lay everywhere.  Margaray and her children were homeless. But they were alive.


The World responded and, within days, several aid organizations arrived to assist.  Tent cities sprang up everywhere, and Margaray and her children were taken by boat to a tent city in the Dominican Republic.  The living conditions were horrible – very little food, no fresh water, and no sanitary facilities. Their very survival was in question.  


Then Margaray met Dennis, an aid worker from the U.S.  Dennis had arrived on January 14, 2010, two days after the devastating quake.  He experienced, first-hand, what Margaray and her family were experiencing.  


Days turned into months and a bond grew between Dennis and Margaray.   Her children adored him.   After almost a year living in the tent city and spending more and more time with Margaray and her children, Dennis asked her to marry him.  They were married soon after in the Dominican Republic.  Up to that time, it had never occurred to Margaray that she and her children would ever leave Haiti or the Dominican Republic. But Dennis contacted friends in the U.S. and the second part of Margaray’s story began.  


Fortunately Dennis’ friends contacted me soon after they talked with Dennis.  Dennis and his new family had two obstacles to overcome, first, getting into the U.S. and, second, obtaining permanent residence status.  Because of the complexity and the paperwork involved with each of these steps, many potential immigrants never enter the U.S.  They either never complete the paperwork, they complete it incorrectly, or they are unable, for various reasons, to follow the steps necessary to enter our country.  However, because I became involved early in the process, we were able to file the necessary papers, and in 2011 Dennis, Margaray, and their three children entered the U.S.


After an immigrant arrives in the U.S., obtaining permanent resident status is even more complicated then entering the country.  The paperwork is extensive and complicated to complete, it then has to be filed correctly and on time, and finally, in Margaray’s case, she and Dennis had to travel to Philadelphia to undergo an extensive interview.  Completing the paperwork incorrectly and missing the filing deadlines is more the norm than the exception for immigrants seeking permanent residence or Green Card status. 


This time the story has a good end.  Margaray has her Green Card and is taking steps necessary to become a U.S. citizen. A woman who never envisioned leaving the rubble of her native country is enjoying life in central PA.  Even something as simple and ordinary as buying groceries at Giant (which many of us take for granted) is, to Margary, a part of her American Dream.


As this blog goes to print, over 500,000 Haitian refugees continue to live in tents or under tarpaulins.


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Harrisburg Magazine Readers' Choice 2011