UF Law grad shares experience during Haiti earthquake
Back in Boynton Beach, Fla., one of his clients, a Haitian man seeking political asylum, was hoping to one day be reunited with his son, who had lost all of his remaining family members in the earthquake. Later, the man would learn that he would be able to qualify for Temporary Protected Status, rather than a final hearing on his asylum application, an application often denied by judges prior to the earthquake.
Immigration lawyer Richard A. Hujber (JD 96), of the Law Offices of Richard A. Hujber, P.A., wanted to help those left behind who were unable to seek asylum in the United States.
Millions of people were left hungry, homeless and helpless after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that shook Haiti to its core. Hujber’s large client base of Haitian immigrants connected him to the devastation in Haiti. Hujber, along with 30 other community leaders, nurses and doctors, made the trek on a Christian mission trip to Haitian capital Port-Au-Prince to help the earthquake victims of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere two weeks after the initial earthquake.
“At that moment I was just fired up,” he said. “I couldn’t just text 10 bucks anymore. I couldn’t even watch CNN anymore because you feel like nothing is being done.”
He knew he had to go to Haiti himself.
Hujber described the trip as one of the most amazing experiences of his life. Hujber has no medical background, but he used his physical strength to carry people to receive medical attention, build safe havens and help protect the camp.
“The spirit of volunteering, giving, sacrifice for community and humanity was everywhere,” he said of the various international, nongovernmental organizations.
But so were corruption, confusion and carnage.
“I will never forget what I saw,” Hujber said. “Entire communities destroyed. Tent cities already up and running. The smell — a mix between carnage and the rotting fruits and vegetables as people tried to return to their lives, those who could, selling what they had on the streets.”
The island also lacked security, so riots and looting were an everyday occurrence in the initial days after the earthquake. Unfortunately, so were infant mortalities.
“I will never forget the baby brought to our temporary clinic, set up in the rubble of a church, well outside the capital and overlooking the beautiful beach,” Hujber said. “His parents knew something was wrong because at 6 months old he could not hold his head up, as he must have before. Found in the rubble three days after the quake, I felt the dent on his head — and they diagnosed the skeletal fracture later at the University of Miami field hospital. We drove two hours in a truck, holding this baby, trying to get him the help he desperately needed. It took the assistance of actor Sean Penn to get him flown to Philadelphia for surgery, and I found out six months later he did make it, only to later die upon his return to Haiti.”
“And this is just one story out of millions,” Hujber said.
Although hunger and sickness abounded on the island, Hujber said the country needed even more than food and medical aid to recover. The country needs new infrastructure and governmental hierarchy.
“The country was in shambles before the earthquake,” Hujber said. “We passed by a huge ditch in the middle of the road and assumed it was a result of the earthquake. ‘This ditch wasn’t because of the earthquake,’ the driver said. ‘This has always been here.’”
“It’s just not enough to send food and medicine. Generational and systematic work on the hierarchy system are needed for absolute changes from the top down,” Hujber said.
One year ago, FlaLaw published a story about Nathalie Nozile (JD 11), a Haitian UF Law grad who became the first Jolie Legal Fellow, a position that places her as a special assistant to the Haitian government to help ensure equal access to justice and the protection of children’s rights in Haiti.
Humanitarian paroles had to be decreased once the orphan scandal surfaced that vulnerable Haitian children were being sold into servitude, prostitution or slavery due to “increased insecurity” in the country because of the earthquake, according to a February 2011 report from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Hujber said Jolie’s fellowship is one way lawyers can continue to lend a humanitarian hand to the island nation, and encouraged UF Law students to help in other ways as well.
In addition to taking on pro bono cases, Hujber suggested teaching English to Haitians with Temporary Protected Status.
“Some (Haitian refugees) are still struggling to learn English and they are not yet assimilated,” he said. “They work their brains out but they need help becoming more accustomed to our legal systems. Lawyers and law students can help them with that.”
Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., wrote Hujber a letter thanking him for his outreach to the Haitian nation and encouraged others to do the same.
Hujber, the son of Hungarian political refugees who fled their war-torn homeland in the late 1950s and stayed in the castle of the Dutch princess as freedom fighters, has had a heart for humanity since he can remember.
“I saw a need in the community I serve,” Hujber said. “I just knew I had to go over there and help in any way I could.”