They were children when they left Haiti for better lives in US cities such as Boston, New York or Miami. But convicted of crimes as adults, they are being sent back to the streets of Port-au-Prince after having served part of their sentences. Hated by their countrymen, foreigners in their own land, the “deported” dream of only one thing: returning to the United States, as Agence France Presse reports.
Washington had suspended expulsions on humanitarian grounds after last year’s earthquake killed more than 220,000 Haitians and flattened the capital city, where 1.5 million people remain homeless.
Until then, the United States annually sent back about 700 Haitian nationals with criminal records.
But early this year, the US government resumed expulsions. Twenty-seven of the “deported,” as they are called on the island, were sent back in January, followed by 19 others earlier this month.
Rights groups and others say it is an unfair burden to impose on a country that is struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake, as well as trying to stop an epidemic of cholera.
“Seeing the return of notorious criminals, who are not carpenters or mechanics but bandits who … want to continue with the same activities, this certainly constitutes a problem for us,” Edmond Mulet, head of the United Nations mission in Haiti, told AFP.
At the national police headquarters, asked if the returning Haitians were joining violent gangs, the officer in charge of the matter said only: “I don’t know, I don’t know anything about it.”
The office was packed with relatives of the April arrivals, vouching for their son, nephew or cousin. A file with names, ages and crimes sat on the table. The crimes are marked “violence,” “sexual abuse,” “armed robbery,” and “homicide.”
Upon their arrival via US military aircraft, the young Haitians are met by local authorities.
Jean-Daniel Maurice, a 25-year-old who lived in the New York suburbs, was arrested for burglary six years ago.
“My girlfriend was pregnant and I had no money,” he explained.
Before serving his full sentence, he was deported in January. Haitian police placed him in an overcrowded prison.
“A room with a single mattress for 11 people,” he recalled. “If you have no family, no one brings you anything to drink or eat.”
After being questioned at length by police — “they were looking for drug dealers and wanted to know about weapons I had used,” he said — he and four others were jailed for 11 days.
“We each had to pay about $300,” he said.
But one of the 27 men deported in January was not as lucky — he died after four days in prison, from what appeared to be cholera, a bacterial infection that has killed an estimated 4,856 Haitians since last year.
The Organization of American States, among others, has urged Washington to halt the deportations. The OAS’s human rights commission noted the deplorable, inhumane conditions of Haitian jails, which provide little or no medical care.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that once a deportation order is obtained on a non-citizen criminal, that person cannot be detained beyond six months.
“As a result, after a year of suspended removals, the US government made the difficult decision to restart removals of a limited group of Haitian nationals to ensure the safety of US communities,” the ICE statement said April 1.
When prioritizing deportations, ICE said it considers factors “such as the severity, number of convictions, and dates since convictions, and balance these against any equities of the Haitian national, such as duration of residence in the United States, family ties, or significant medical issues.”
The returning Haitians, arriving with only the prison clothes they wore in their US cells, discover an extremely poor country whose inhabitants detest them.
“They hate us because everyone dreams of emigrating to the United States, and we wasted our chance,” said 40-year-old Harry, deported 15 years ago for armed robbery.
Behind dark glasses, he hides the fact that he lost an eye last July, he said, when a police officer hit him after accusing him of being deported.
At police headquarters where they must sign a register once a week. Jean-Daniel and his friend George Desroches were met with contempt by police officers. “You are deported? Tsss,” said one officer.
The two lower their heads and nod.
“Life is hard here, there are no jobs, there’s nothing,” said Desroches, speaking with a New Jersey accent picked up when he lived in the eastern US state. “Now, I dream of one thing: Go.”
Harry, the 40-year-old, added: “Haitians don’t like the way we speak Creole, how we dress. We are marked ‘deported.’ All this is not fair.”