NEW YORK, USA (CMC) — The Obama Administration has resumed deportation of Haitians living illegally in the United States amidst a growing chorus of calls for Washington to reverse the policy.
In the latest appeal, three legislators in Brooklyn, New York have dispatched a joint letter to the US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, and to the Obama Administration asking them to rescind their decision to resume deportations of Haitians.
New York State Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, the daughter of Haitian immigrants; New York City Council Member Jumaane D Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants; and New York State Senator Kevin Parker said Haitians being deported are unfairly “singled out”.
Bichotte, the first Haitian American in New York City to be elected to New York State Assembly, has also participated in a social media campaign imploring the US Administration to re-designate Haitians refugees for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) classification and to expand the Haitian Family Reunification Programme.
The three elected officials represent largely Caribbean districts in Brooklyn with high concentration of Haitians. Bichotte represents the 42nd Assembly District, Williams the 45th City Council District, and Parker the 21st Senatorial District.
“America has long been known as the land of opportunity and a country that has opened its borders to immigrants,” the legislators said in their joint letter.
“If we look at more recent immigrants, such as Cubans, there has long been a policy that once they arrive, if they make it to our shores, they are allowed to stay and granted refugee status.
“There were also Salvadorans and Guatemalans, which sought asylum in our country during the civil war in El Salvador, many to whom asylum was granted,” they added.
“Ultimately, legislation was put in place — the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central Relief Act (1972) — which allowed these groups to apply directly for a green card. In addition, the Obama Administration has recently said it would accept 110,000 Syrian refugees. In light of these policies, it would appear that these Haitian immigrants are being singled out.”
The politicians wrote that, prior to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, many Haitians migrated there to find work, stating that, once the Olympics were over, jobs were scarce and some Haitians began the long and treacherous journey to the US/Mexico border, “only to be detained or turned away”.
In some cases, Bichotte, Williams and Parker said Haitian families were separated. “Women and children from their husbands and fathers due to the abrupt change in immigration policy.”
The legislators said the deportations resumed “at a time when there was a tragic confluence of events, ”including the devastation Hurricane Matthew and a widespread cholera epidemic, accompanied by a pending election.
“Contrary to what DHS (Department of Homeland Security) has stated, the situation in Haiti has not improved; it has worsened, warranting a humanitarian response, not harsh enforcement,” they said, adding that “without an effort to rectify this situation, DHS’s forced separation of family members may mean that families are separated for a lifetime.
“We are currently seeing what appears to be an unprecedented humanitarian crisis throughout the world. Like their peers, these Haitian immigrants face a great deal of uncertainty if they were to go back to their home country — political and economic instability, a cholera epidemic, and the fallout from the recent hurricane, not to mention that their biggest obstacle will likely be that the Haitian Government will not accept them due to documentation issues. They will be completely without a country.
“We would like to urge the Obama Administration to please reconsider their recent actions and reverse their course to deport undocumented Haitian immigrants, while there is still time,” the legislators wrote.
Earlier this month, New York City Council passed a resolution requesting that the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security grant TPS to undocumented Haitian nationals.
The resolution, introduced by Brooklyn Council Member Dr Mathieu Eugene, the first Haitian to be elected to the City Council, was “part of an ongoing effort to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, while providing Haitians living abroad the opportunity to remain in a stable environment”.
Eugene, who represents the largely Caribbean 40th Council District in Brooklyn, also said that, over the past decade, Haiti has suffered from a number of natural disasters, including tropical storms, earthquakes, and, most recently, a hurricane.
“This legislation will help to lessen the burden on Haiti as it continues its rebuilding process,” said Eugene, a member of the City Council Immigration Committee.
“Any country in the world, even a rich country, would find it difficult to recover after several natural disasters. I think it makes sense that we, as elected officials, continue to work together to ensure that the American Government and Homeland Security grant TPS to Haitian people who are now in the United States because they cannot return to Haiti,” he added.
Earlier, the DHS disclosed that more than 200 Haitians have been deported in the last several weeks.
DHS Secretary Johnson said on November 22 that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which falls under DHS jurisdiction, also “plans to significantly expand removal operations in the coming weeks”.
But Johnson said Haitian nationals currently covered by TPS are unaffected by the resumption of deportation to the French-speaking Caribbean country.
“Specifically, those Haitian nationals who have been continuously residing in the United States since January 12, 2011 and currently hold TPS may remain in the United States and are not subject to removal,” he said in a statement.
“These beneficiaries also remain eligible for employment authorisation.”
Johnson said TPS for Haitian nationals has been extended through July 22, 2017, adding, however, that “recently, we have seen an increase in the numbers of those apprehended on the southern border”.
He said he has instructed border security and immigration enforcement personnel “to take steps to keep pace with this increase”.
As a result, the DHS secretary said there are currently about 41,000 immigrants in US immigration detention facilities, including over 4,400 Haitians. Typically, the number in immigration detention is about 31,000 to 34,000, he said.
“I have authorised ICE to acquire additional detention space so that those apprehended at the border and not eligible for humanitarian relief can be detained and sent home as soon as possible,” Johnson said.
“We must enforce the immigration laws consistent with our priorities. Those who attempt to enter our country illegally must know that, consistent with our laws and our values, we must and we will send you back,” he affirmed.
Following the tragic earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, Johnson noted that ICE ceased deporting Haitians living illegally in the US.
But, in 2011, Johnson said the US resumed the removals of Haitians “on a limited basis, who had final orders of removal and had been convicted of a serious crime.”
On September 22 this year, Johnson announced that the US would resume removals of Haitian nationals “in accordance with our existing enforcement priorities”.
He said this includes those apprehended at the US border attempting to enter the country illegally.
In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, which struck Haiti on October 4, Johnson said removal flights to Haiti were briefly suspended.
Last month, Caribbean American congresswoman Yvette D Clarke also urged the Obama Administration to immediately halt the deportation of undocumented Haitians, stating that “the majority of the people DHS intends to remove have not been accused of any crime”.
Last month Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants who represents the 9thCongressional District in Brooklyn, with 13 of her congressional colleagues, urged Johnson to suspend the removal of Haitian nationals who have not been convicted of a serious crime or otherwise present a threat to US national security.
Two major Haitian Diaspora groups in New York had earlier launched an online petition requesting that the Obama administration also immediately halt the deportation of undocumented Haitians in the wake of the massive destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew.
The New York-based Haiti Renewal Alliance and the United Front of the Haitian Diaspora launched the petition, saying that they were hoping to build awareness to support it, which, on receiving 100,000 signatures, would require an official response from the White House.
“This petition is to urge President Barack Obama to grant Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED), expand and/or redesignate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals, including recently arrived individuals who are currently threatened with deportation, based on the devastation of Hurricane Matthew,” the petition stated.
“It is currently impractical, unsafe and inhumane to deport people into the country at this time. Haitians are hard-working, law-abiding, contribute to the US economy, as well as supporting their families via remittances,” the petition added.
In October, Florida Democratic Congressman Alcee L Hastings, who represents Ft Lauderdale, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to set a date under Haiti’s TPS designation that will account for the effects of Hurricane Matthew on Haiti.
“Given these facts, I believe it is appropriate to grant a TPS designation for those Haitians affected by Hurricane Matthew, and I ask that you do all that you can to ensure that such a designation is made without delay and uses as its Continuous Residence date, October 4, 2016,” he said in his letter to Obama.