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The United States is set to deport more than 30,000 Haitians to their impoverished homeland, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced this week. A protest in response to the decision has been planned for Saturday, Feb. 21 in Broward County, Florida. Haitian activists and immigrants are calling for a halt to the arrests and a suspension of the deportations.

Deportation orders have been processed for 30,299 Haitians and they are starting to be implemented. Hundreds of Haitians have been put in camps awaiting the return home, while others have been put under a form of house arrest and are being monitored with electronic ankle bracelets, the AFP reported.

As the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, Haiti’s troubles significantly increased with the passage of four deadly back-to-back storms last fall — Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike — that killed more than 800 persons and worsened the nation’s food crisis. The storms devastated the small, impoverished island nation, washing away roads, bridges and crops. Thousands lost their homes. By some estimates, 80 percent of the country’s population had been displaced by wide-ranging flood damage. A joint World Bank, United Nations and European Commission assessment released last November determined that total losses from the storms — ‘the largest disaster for Haiti in more than 100 years’ — could equal 15 percent of Haiti’s gross national product.

Haitian President René Préval has urged the United States to grant Haitians nationals in the United States temporary protection status as victims of natural disasters, insisting Haiti is still struggling to recover from last year’s devastating hurricanes and cannot handle the return of its citizens. Haitian officials even said they will not issue the travel documents needed to process the deportees. But ICE argues that Haiti’s resistance will force people to languish longer in crowded detention centers.


The U.S. government did halt deportations to Haiti for three months last year, starting in September. After resuming flights in December, the administration of then President George W. Bush denied Haiti’s request for ‘temporary protected status.’ Temporary protected status, or TPS, is a special state granted to immigrants of certain nationalities who are unable to return to their countries because of armed conflict, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The designation would have allowed Haitians living in the United States illegally to stay and work temporarily as their home country recovered from the devastating storm season.

Several Florida lawmakers criticized the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to resume deportations last December. Haitian grassroots activists and immigration advocates have since renewed the call for TPS for Haitian nationals in the United States. Haitian advocates are upset that the new Obama White House seems to be maintaining the same policy of the past administrations — one that advocates say represents a double-standard in dealing with Haitian immigrants.

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Protected status has been granted and extended by the DHS to people from a handful of African and Central American countries because of natural disasters. For instance, Hondurans are still getting TPS from a natural disaster that occurred in 1999. In addition to Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Sudan have temporary protected status through 2010. Yet, Haiti has never been granted such a status. Over the years, the United States has become notorious for turning away Haitian ‘boat people’ coming into South Florida seeking refuge and asylum from political upheaval and disaster.

The impact of U.S. and multinational policies continue to haunt the country. Over the years, due to harsh policies and pressure from the United States, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Haiti was forced to undergo strict structural adjustment policies that had a devastating impact on its local economy. Critics argue that international lending organizations helped worsen hunger in Haiti by pursuing free market policies that undermined domestic rice production and turned the country into a market for U.S. rice. This food crisis was further compounded by crippling sanctions, political destabilization, and environmental destruction.

Now Haitian advocates are wondering if the Obama era will bring in fair immigration reform or just more of the same.

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