New York, NY
Two human rights groups are urging Attorney General John Ashcroft to immediately halt the deportation of Haitians in the United States and to grant them Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Recent devastating floods and landslides that have taken the lives of countless Haitians combined with continued political instability make conditions in Haiti too dangerous for their return, contend the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC) and the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children.
“Haiti’s transitional government is ill-prepared to handle either the disaster or the potential return of its nationals given the instability in the country,” says FIAC’s Executive Director Cheryl Little. “It is unconscionable for the United States to return Haitians to this situation.”
According to a recent report by Reuters, more than 1,000 bodies were discovered in Mapou, Haiti on May 26, victims of the catastrophic floods. Haiti’s death toll stood at 1,660 at last count, with several hundred people still missing. The International Committee of the Red Cross says that 15,000 people have nowhere to live. The flood waters have flattened crops, ripped apart fragile homes and destroyed entire villages.
Despite these conditions, however, Haitians continue to be regularly deported from the United States back to Haiti. Indeed, just this week, 35 Haitian men who had been detained at the Krome Processing Center in Miami and 16 female asylum seekers who had been detained at the Broward Transitional Center in South Florida were returned to Haiti.
Moreover, a number of Haitians deported in recent weeks have been jailed upon return, the vast majority of whom had no criminal histories. A number of them were told they would be released once sponsors in Haiti stepped forward to assume responsibility for them. One of these Haitians, an asylum seeker, told FIAC that her family was forced to pay $500 U.S. dollars to obtain her release from jail.
Section 244 of the Immigration and Nationality Act permits the Attorney General to designate nationals of a country for TPS if “there is an ongoing armed conflict within the state and, due to that conflict, return of nationals of that state would pose a serious threat to personal safety,” or if, “there has been a... flood... resulting in a substantial but temporary disruption of living conditions.”
“We believe that the situation in Haiti clearly warrants a TPS designation under these criteria,” says Wendy Young, director of external relations at the Women’s Commission. FIAC and the Women’s Commission had urged Ashcroft in February, 2004 to grant TPS to Haitian nationals living in the United States, given the serious political crisis in Haiti.
In the past, TPS has been granted to nationals of Sudan, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Burundi, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Salvador and Guatemala, due to political unrest in those countries. TPS was also granted to Hondurans and Nicaraguans following Hurricane Mitch.
“A similar grant of TPS to Haitians would be in keeping with the reasoning that drove these prior designations,” Young says. “Haitians simply should not be forced to return home when neither the political or physical conditions in Haiti are conducive to their reintegration.”