Immigration attorneys across Florida have begun to protest U.S. government deportation proceedings for Haitians in the country illegally, saying that it amounts to a death sentence. As The Florida-Times Union reports, deportations were halted last year for humanitarian purposes after the devastating earthquake last year, which killed 230,000 people and left more than a million homeless. Although some of the deportees have been convicted of crimes, advocates point out that as Haiti still struggles to recover from the earthquake, the election chaos, and the ravages of the cholera epidemic, it is “the wrong time to deport Haitians.” Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:
[. . .] Jacksonville immigration attorneys say that at least 200 Haitians have been taken to the Baker County federal detention center since early December, and some have already been transferred to a facility in Louisiana that is often the last stop for those facing deportation. A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said they expect to deport about 700 people to Haiti this year, starting in mid-January.
[. . .] The Center for Constitutional Rights announced last week that six civil and human rights organizations, including some in Florida, have filed an emergency petition with the Inter-American Commission on Civil Rights, asking them to order a stop to the roundups and pending deportations. Florida Coastal School of Law’s immigration law clinic has taken the cases of several Haitians fighting deportation, attorney Ericka Curran said.
An ICE spokeswoman said resuming deportations was necessary in part because the agency is required to hold immigrants only as long as it reasonably takes to repatriate them to their native country — regardless of what offenses they committed — or they must be released from custody. “ICE is resuming the removal of criminal aliens in coordination with the government of Haiti and consistent with our domestic immigration enforcement priorities,” ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said.
So a small group of immigration attorneys has been visiting the Baker County facility weekly to meet with detainees and hold “know your rights” seminars. Most of them have already been released from custody and are living across Florida, Winston said. So far, none of them has been from the Jacksonville area. Many have committed serious crimes, she admits, but they served their time and had not violated the conditions of their release before getting picked up by immigration agents.
“Some of them may have been in the United States since they were very young and don’t have any family in Haiti,” said Roland Wasembeck, a paralegal with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid’s Refugee Immigration Project and a Haitian-American. He has family in northern Haiti. If he were in the shoes of those scheduled for deportation, he said, he doubts even he could survive. “People there are homeless and jobless,” he said. “It’s an inhumane decision.”
“For all the U.S. has done as far as aid to Haiti, this evidences an insensitivity to the issue,” said Nancy Hale, director of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid’s Refugee Immigration Project. “It’s fading from sight.”
Photo (taken before last year’s earthquake) from Ward Harvaky’s article, “U.S. Stops Deporting Haitians—It Took an Earthquake” (13 January 2010); see http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2010/01/us_stops_deport.php