By Dr. Sue Weishar, Migration Specialist
On January 12, 2010, at 4:53 PM local time southern Haiti was rocked by a massive earthquake that killed over a quarter of a million people, injured more than 300,000, and left 1.5 million Haitians homeless. A year later, the conditions in the country are arguably worse than after the earthquake struck. In Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital situated only 15 miles from the quake’s epicenter, almost every open space is crammed with weather-beaten blue and white tents and tarpaulins—in public squares, the crumpled presidential palace, an abandoned golf course, and on slopes outside the capital. More than 1.3 million people live in such precarious conditions with no transition to permanent housing on the horizon. Crime, particularly sexual violence again women living in makeshift settlements, has increased significantly. Large numbers of children made orphans by the quake wander the settlements. A cholera epidemic has already killed 3,600 people, and sickened over 109,000 others. The World Health Organization expects that another 650,000 cases will develop in the first six months of 2011. A disputed November 28th parliamentary and presidential election has led to widespread political violence, causing Port-au-Prince and several provincial capitals to be shut down by tire-burning protesters.
Despite such horrid conditions, on January 20 the U.S. deported 26 Haitians with criminal convictions and another man who was acquitted in a 2007 terror plot. The Department of Homeland Security has said it expects to remove 700 Haitians with “serious criminal convictions” by the end of 2011. In early December 2010 Haitians who had been released on Orders of Supervision after the January 2010 earthquake were picked up and placed in detention. Approximately 100 Haitians were then sent by ICE from Florida-- where most of them lived and had family members and legal representation-- to three remote detention centers in Louisiana to be processed for removal. On December 21 Loyola University College of Law Assistant Clinic Professor Hiroko Kusuda organized an intake session staffed by 20 volunteers who interviewed the 54 Haitians detained at the Tensas Parish Detention Center, located four hours north of New Orleans. The men were in a state of shock that the U.S. had decided to deport them back to Haiti at such a dangerous and chaotic time in Haiti’s history. One of the men told a volunteer, “I have no place to go- no family in Haiti. There is no security, no nothing, no future. I am afraid of disease… I will die.”
Many of the men expressed profound fear of the dangerously unhealthy conditions they are likely to encounter in Haitian prisons. Under long-standing Haitian policy, all deportees with criminal records are detained in Haitian police sub-stations upon their arrival in Haiti, where they are held in severely over-crowded, rodent and insect infested cells, and locked up 24 hours a day. There are no toilet facilities in the substation jails-- detainees must defecate in bags and urinate in communal buckets. Some cells are so crowded that detainees sleep standing up with a rope tied to cell windows to prevent one from falling onto other prisoners. There is no food or medical treatment- other than what is provided by local family members, who must also pay a bribe to obtain their family member’s release. The prospect for survival for the detainees who lost all remaining family members in Haiti in the earthquake is bleak.
Cholera, which is spread by contact with bacteria-infected water or feces, spreads quickly under such conditions. It can cause rapid dehydration, shock, cardiac arrest and death within a few hours of its first symptom. Michelle Karshan, who founded Alternative Chance for returned Haitian criminal deportees 15 years ago in Port-au-Prince, states in a petition prepared by advocates to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “It is very likely that the arriving criminal deportees will die from cholera when detained upon arrival. Deporting them into this chaotic, negligent, inhumane and deadly situation amounts to a death sentence.”
Of all the tragic stories that were shared with Loyola Law School Clinic volunteers on December 21, perhaps none were more wrenching than those from young men born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents, who then grew up in the U.S. They are not considered nationals of either the U.S. or The Bahamas. Imagine being deported to a Haitian prison at this time, having never lived in Haiti, with no family ties, and barely able to speak the language. Where is the humanity in an immigration policy that would subject a person to such a fate? A young man of Haitian descent born in the Bahamas who was being deported for two drug possessions pleaded with a volunteer, “This is destroying my family. My son is without a father. May wife is without a husband. I am different at 26 than I was at 19. I know I’ve done wrong. I am not a U.S. citizen but I am a human being. I love my family.”
Please contact President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Secretary Janet Napolitano and ask that all deportations to Haiti be halted until the country has sufficiently recovered and the infrastructure is in place to humanely receive persons who are deported. Your urgent action is needed! Go to http://capwiz.com/jesuit/issues/alert/?alertid=23241516 to send a letter to President Obama and his administration today.
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