Photo Credit: Vania Andre
Photo Credit: Vania Andre

By Vania Andre

The United States Department of Homeland Security has resumed deportations to Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, despite calls to halt deportations from the Haitian Diaspora and U.S. elected officials. There are reportedly two flights scheduled to depart to Haiti every week. The first flights arrived Thursday, Nov. 3 and Tuesday, Nov. 8.

On Nov. 2, Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), with thirteen of her colleagues, urged Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to suspend the removal of Haitian nationals who have not been convicted of a serious crime or otherwise present a threat to national security.

“Haiti is not equipped to care for the planned biweekly arrival of deportees or to provide the resources they will need to rebuild their lives.,” said Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL), who represents one of the largest Haitian populations in the U.S.

“I visited Haiti on Oct. 29 and can unequivocally say that little has changed in the five weeks since the Category 4 storm hit an already vulnerable nation. More than a million people are in yet another fight for their lives in the aftermath of yet another natural disaster that has compounded the damage caused by the 2010 earthquake.”

Wilson’s statements were also echoed by Clarke, whose Brooklyn constituency includes the second largest population of Haitians in the U.S.

“These deportations will return thousands of Haitians to a country that continues to struggle with the devastation of Hurricane Matthew and the recent outbreak of cholera that was introduced by international aid workers responding to the 2010 earthquake,” Clarke said. “In this period of turmoil, the forced removal of Haitian nationals will only exacerbate the difficulties of rebuilding Haiti and deny families access to remittances from relatives in the United States.”

Les Cayes, Haiti Photo Credit: Fabiola Jean

On Oct. 4, Hurricane Matthew made landfall in Haiti that left approximately 1,000 people dead, and millions of dollars in damages. In the aftermath of the hurricane – the strongest one the country has seen in more than a decade – fears of cholera and typhoid, coupled with a developing food crisis has left the country on its proverbial knees.

In the days following the hurricane, Homeland Security Secretary Johnson announced a temporary suspension of the deportations, while Haiti dealt with damage caused by the Category 4 storm.

“It’s completely wrong to deport anyone to Haiti, when the hurricane has devastated so much of the country,” said Steve Forester, immigration and policy coordinator at Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. “DHS stopped it’s policy based on the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew. The idea that they can recover in 5 weeks time is outrageous. Nothing has changed since then, other than this is no longer in U.S. headlines.”

Forester calls the decision to resume the deportations an “obscenity” on the part of the Obama Administration, and questions the timing of the first flights headed to Haiti.

When they chose to resume the deportations was “not accidental,” he said.

The first flights took place a week before the election, and on election day itself — a time where U.S. headlines were inundated with election coverage, and news of FBI Director James Comey announcing his re-investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Forester is one of many voices calling on the Obama Administration to halt the deportations and re-designate Haiti for TPS.

“Haiti is in no position to receive additional deportees,” he said.

A petition titled “The Haitian Diaspora Urges President Obama to Stop Haitian Deportation Now” was created on Nov. 3 and has been signed by a little over 200 people.

“The Hurricane violently struck Haiti and resulted in the country’s largest humanitarian crisis since the 2010 earthquake. It caused extensive damage, leaving more than 2.1 million people at risk of food insecurity, homelessness, and increase cholera and other diseases,” the petition reads. “It is currently impractical, unsafe and inhumane to deport people into the country at this time. Haitians are hardworking, law abiding, contribute to the US economy, as well as supporting their families via remittances.”

The petition calls for President Barack Obama to grant Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED), expand and/or re-designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals, including recently arrived individuals, who are currently threatened with deportation based on the devastation of Hurricane Matthew.

TPS allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant a foreign country’s nationals temporary residency in the U.S. due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.  TPS applies to those already in the U.S. and is typically used when a country is undergoing an armed conflict or an environmental disaster.

TPS beneficiaries cannot be deported from the U.S. and can obtain working papers.

Haiti was designated TPS in January 2010 following the devastating earthquake. An extension was granted by Secretary Johnson in March 2014 for an additional 18 months from July 2014 through Jan. 22, 2016.

In August 2015, Secretary Johnson announced a second extension of Haiti’s designation for TPS for an additional 18 months, effective Jan. 23, 2016, through July 22, 2017.

“The U.S. has laws in place that helps countries when devastation strikes,” Forester said. “Like the earthquake, the hurricane is exactly what TPS was designed for.”

In a letter dated Oct. 12, 2016, New York senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand urged State Secretary John F. Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Johnson to stop the deportations of “non-criminals” back to Haiti. In the letter, they argued TPS was created to offer “temporary, humane protection” to foreign nationals living in the U.S. whose native countries were in conditions that made it impossible for their nationals to return home – an argument that applies to Haiti and the havoc Hurricane Matthew wreaked on the small island country.

“We believe the widespread damage and destruction in Haiti make these people eligible for TPS designation, and we urge you to swiftly consider it,” they said in the letter.  “TPS has been granted to Haiti in the past, following the devastating earthquake in 2010. We believe this is again the safest route to avoid further burdening the Haitian government in this time of severe distress.”

Hurricane Matthew has displaced about 175,509 people, most of whom are now living in some 307 temporary shelters, including 86 schools. More than 800,000 people need food assistance urgently, the number of suspected cholera cases are increasing, and nearly 150,000 children are out of school, because their schools are being used as temporary shelters.

“The damage caused by Hurricane Matthew is real,” Forester said. We need “proactive policies” to deal with this; mass incarceration and deportation of non-criminal is not the answer.

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