MIAMI – Deportations to Haiti have resumed after being suspended for nearly three months following a wave of deadly storms that racked the country, federal immigration officials said Monday.
Immigration officials temporarily stopped returning residents to Haiti in September after hundreds were killed in four storms.
“The individuals being returned have final orders of removal and the necessary travel documents,” ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “We have contacted interested members of Congress to apprise them of the reinstituted removals.”
Navas didn’t provide further details on the timing of the flights or discuss numbers of deportees.
“This decision only complicates the Haitian government’s ongoing recovery effort,” U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Florida Democrat, said in an e-mail. “The Bush administration has less than six weeks to do the right thing and grant Haitians temporary protected status.”
Leaders of the Haitian commmunity in Florida and human rights advocates argue that conditions have been slow to improve since at least 425 people were killed and thousands left homeless by severe flooding after the storms.
Late last month, the mayor of Port-au-Prince estimated that 60 percent of the city’s buildings were unsafe, built shoddily and now standing on ground weakened by a torrential hurricane season. A school collapse last month killed nearly 100 people.
Even before the storms, skyrocketing food prices had sparked violent protests.
“Deportations at this time are simply inhumane, sending people to conditions of famine and disease. The change in policy is unwarranted by reports on the ground which confirm that the humanitarian crisis in Haiti continues and worsens,” said Randy McGrorty, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities Legal Services in Miami.
Some South Florida congressional members, who represent the largest Haitian community in the U.S., have said they were disappointed that Haitians have not been granted temporary protected status.
The status allows immigrants from countries experiencing armed conflict or environmental disasters to stay and work in the U.S. for a limited time. It has been granted to a handful of African and Central American countries.
”The decision to resume deportations to Haiti shocks the conscience,” said Randolph McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services, Archdiocese of Miami. “Deportations at this time are simply inhumane, sending people to conditions of famine and disease. The change in policy is unwarranted by reports on the ground which confirm that the humanitarian crisis in Haiti continues and worsens.”
McGrorty added: “It is incomprehensibly counter-productive to the U.S. government’s objective of avoiding mass migration, and so cruel and misguided that I cannot explain it by any other way than to condemn the policy as racist.”
Immigrant advocates found hope in the suspension, issued in September. They said the halt could pave the way for temporary protected status, or TPS, a program that temporarily suspends deportations and allows undocumented Haitians to obtain work permits.
Immigrant advocates expressed further relief when authorities allowed more than 50 Haitians to be released from a Broward detention center. Ankle bracelets were used to monitor their whereabouts, they said.
But on Monday, immigration attorneys and Haitian authorities expressed frustration with the resumed deportations. Lawyer Randolph McGrorty sent out an urgent e-mail.
”It’s an outrageously inhumane act,” said Cheryl Little, executive director of Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami. “We are attempting to do whatever we can to convince [U.S.] government officials to change their minds on this.”
In an e-mail from the Department of Homeland Security requesting travel documents for 43 noncriminal Haitians, Haitian Consul General Ralph Latorture found out about the resumed deportations.
”We still have thousands of cubic meters of mud being removed from Gonaives,” Latortue said about the hard-hit seaport of Gonaives. “There are still people in shelters, and of course people know children are suffering from malnutrition in Haiti. These are all circumstances that put the country in a difficult position struggling to recover.”