WASHINGTON – The recent decision by the U.S. government to resume the deportation of Haitians is wrong, and will put lives at risk while creating an additional problem for the maintenance of public order in beleaguered Haiti.
Haiti is still struggling to recover from last January’s earthquake, is in the midst of a cholera epidemic and is also embroiled in controversy over the recent presidential elections there. Deporting Haitians – especially those with criminal records – from the United States at this time is an unwise and dangerous policy.
On Dec. 22, 2010, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and other faith-based and legal services groups wrote to Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano asking that the department reconsider this pending action. We have yet to hear a response to the concerns we raised in the letter.
DHS has not issued any written guidance explaining this new policy on Haitian deportations. Instead it has given verbal briefings to a limited group of stakeholders stating that the U.S. government will initially detain and deport individuals with “serious criminal convictions,” with an ultimate expectation of removing 700 people by the end of 2011. While we support the enforcement of immigration laws, we are concerned that the continuing state of emergency in Haiti will jeopardize the lives of those deported and divert resources from the recovery and reconstruction effort.
We are also concerned that it will be nearly impossible to carry out the planned deportations and provide for the reintegration of those deported, many of whom are long-time U.S. residents with no resources in Haiti, in a safe and dignified fashion. We are disturbed by the lack of clarity and transparency of DHS, which has provided no details as to how this might be accomplished. It is difficult to understand why this decision has been made at a time when Haiti is experiencing increasing political unrest and rising criminal activity. Placing the additional burden of dealing with these deportees on already overwhelmed Haitian government officials at this time is a bad decision.
Also troubling is the fact that about 100 Haitians have been transferred to remote detention centers in Louisiana. This has separated them not only from family members in the U.S., but also from their lawyers and legal service providers. In effect, they have been spirited away from those who love them and those who could provide aid to them.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA calls on the Department of Homeland Security to clarify their new policy and to provide an explanation of how conditions have materially changed in Haiti to justify the resumption of deportations, which have been suspended since the earthquake. We also ask what steps are being taken in Haiti to prepare for the returns and what agreements have been reached with the Haitian government regarding the treatment of those returned.