US Discriminatory Immigration
Policies Toward Haitians
by Stephen Lendman
It's a familiar story for Haitians - last
in, first out for the hemisphere's poorest, least wanted, and
most abused people here and at home. Most recently it was highlighted
by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials announcing
the resumption of over 30,000 deportations to a nation reeling
from poverty, repression, despair, the devastation from last summer's
storms, and occupation by UN paramilitary Blue Helmets - since
2004, illegally there for the first time ever to support and enforce
a coup d'etat against a democratically elected president, at the
behest of Washington.
On December 9, ICE resumed deportations
after halting them in September following summer storms that battered
the country leaving 800,000 people without food, clean water,
other essentials, and for around 70,000 their homes.
ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas announced:
"We fully expected to resume deportation flights when it
was safe. And we made a determination that it was appropriate
to (do it now) based on the conditions on the ground....The individuals
being returned have final orders of removal and the necessary
travel documents" - even though advocates say things are
worse in Haiti, not better.
BBC called the situation "eye-popping,"
and the Miami Herald said it was "the worst humanitarian
disaster (for) Haiti in 100 years" leaving:
-- Gonaives, Haiti's third largest city,
-- most of the nation's livestock and
food crops destroyed as well as farm tools and seeds for replanting;
-- irrigation systems demolished;
-- collapsed buildings throughout the
country; 23,000 houses destroyed; another 85,000 damaged; 964
schools destroyed or damaged;
-- conservatively about $1 billion in
-- the threat of famine, especially for
children and the elderly;
-- 2.3 million Haitians facing "food
insecurity," according to USAID, reeling under 40% higher
prices than in January;
-- inadequate sanitation and clean water;
-- the widespread threat of disease; and
-- overall millions lacking everything
needed to survive who in normal times struggle to get by.
In December, Director Randy McGorty of
Catholic Legal Services for the Archdiocese of Miami said:
"After dealing with this administration
on Haitian issues for eight years, I'm forced to conclude that
its policy toward Haiti is based on racism. It's shocking. People
(lack everything and) are starving. This callous disregard for
human life is inexplicable. Many deported Haitians simply have
no communities to return to. It is disappointing that the Bush
administration would even consider sending people back to this
incredibly fragile nation....(Haiti's) humanitarian crisis....continues
(South) Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center's
(FIAC) executive director, Cheryl Little, said: "We are attempting
to do whatever we can to convince government officials to change
their minds on this. It's an outrageously inhumane act."
On January 26, FIAC urged new DHS Secretary
Janet Napolitano to "immediately stay the inhumane deportations
and to seriously consider granting Temporary Protected Status
(TPS) for Haitians already in the United States." On December
19, former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff denied the Preval government's
TPS request. As a result, Haiti won't cooperate, so ICE is making
Haitians get their own travel documents (including passports)
and assist in their own deportations.
Throughout 2008, around 1000 occurred
in total. After a near-three month suspension (from September
19 - December 9), they resumed slowly, but picked up noticeably
after Obama's inauguration. According to FIAC, men like Louiness
Petit-Frere are affected, deported on January 23: "Here ten
years with no criminal record, he leaves his US-citizen wife behind
along with his mother and four siblings, all (with) legal status....One
of his brothers, US Marine Sgt Nikenson Peirreloui, served and
was injured in Iraq."
In 2008, Obama campaigned vigorously for
South Florida's Haitian vote. Now he's betrayed it the way he's
abandoning millions of distressed households by providing little
in real relief compared to trillions in handouts to Wall Street
and the rich.
After Congress established TPS in 1990,
Washington granted 260,000 Salvadorans, 82,000 Hondurans, and
5000 Nicaraguans protection, then extended it on October 1, 2008.
It lets the Attorney General grant temporary immigration status
to undocumented residents unable to return home due to armed conflict,
environmental disasters, or other "extraordinary and temporary
conditions." Besides El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras,
past recipients included Kuwait, Lebanon, Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Guinea-Bissau, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Montserrat, Sierra Leone,
Somalia, Sudan, and Angola. Six nations still have TPS, but all
face expiration in 2009 unless extended.
Haitians never got it, yet granting it
is the simplest, least expensive form of aid so Port-au-Prince
can concentrate on redevelopment while Haitians in America help
through remittances back to families. In 2006, they sent $1.65
billion, the highest income percentage from any foreign national
group in the world.
In 1997, the Clinton administration granted
Haitians Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for one year. Currently
about 20,000 Haitians qualify for TPS, a much smaller number than
for other recipient countries.
Nonetheless, deportations are proceeding
with 30,299 on "final order of removal" status, meaning
an immigration judge ordered them out. About 600 are in detention,
243 others are electronically monitored, and all 30,000 will be
removed by an administration as callous to the poor as previous
hard-liners under George Bush. In America, everything changes,
yet stays the same, even under the first black president.
Some Background on Haitian Immigration
Haitians began arriving in South Florida
about 50 years ago, but were denied the same rights and treatment
as more favored immigrants like Europeans. Fleeing repressive
dictatorships hardly mattered during years under "Papa"
and "Baby Doc" Duvalier or when military dictatorships
ran the country.
In September 1963, the first boatload
claiming persecution arrived but were denied asylum and deported.
Decades later, it's the same. After a 1991 coup deposed President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, thousands of Haitians fled to America.
Most were intercepted at sea and sent home while around 300 were
detained at Guantanamo because tests showed they were HIV positive.
Conditions at the camp were deplorable.
Treated like prisoners, they were held behind razor wire in leaky
barracks with bad sanitation, poor food, and little medical care
even for the sick and pregnant women. After protests and a hunger
strike, crackdowns were severe, many were imprisoned, and Clinton
White House justification was no different than today. The DOJ
claimed Haitians had no legal rights under the Constitution, federal
statutes, or international law. Wrong.
International law protects asylum seekers,
Haitians as much as others.
Article I of the 1951 UN Convention Relating
to the Status of Refugees defines one as:
"A person who owing to a well-founded
fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality,
membership of a particular social group or political opinion,
is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to
or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the
protection of that country."
Refugee-seeking persons are "asylum
seekers." Post-WW II, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) was created to help them. To gain legal protection, individuals
-- be outside their country of origin;
-- be afraid of persecution;
-- be harmed or fear harm by their government
-- fear persecution for at least one of
the above cited reasons; and
-- pose no danger to others.
In the 1980s, Haitians fared no better
than earlier. From 1981 - 1990, 22,940 Haitians were interdicted
at sea, yet only 11 qualified for asylum compared to tens of thousands
of Cubans who automatically get it if they reach South Florida.
After the September 1991 coup against
Aristide, the OAS's strong condemnation forced the first Bush
administration to soften its policy slightly, but not much. By
November 11, about 450 Haitians were in detention while the State
Department sought a regional solution, and the UN High Commissioner
for Refugees arranged for several Latin countries (including Belize,
Hondorus, Trinidad, Tobago, and Venezuela) to provide temporary
safe havens. Still hundreds were forcibly returned and thousands
more interned at Guantanamo.
By May 1992, citing an inflow surge that
month, president Bush ordered all Haitian boats interdicted and
peremptorily returned without determining if their occupants were
at risk of persecution. Repatriation continued until Bill Clinton
offered to process arrivals at a regional location, but only as
it turned out for three weeks because the flow was much greater
than expected. Thereafter, refugee processing was suspended with
arrivals offered regional "safe havens" but no option
for US refugee status.
In October 1998, under the newly enacted
Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA), eligible Haitians
(who filed asylum claims or entered the US before December 31,
1995) were allowed to live and work in America permanently without
applying for an immigrant visa in advance from overseas.
However, under the 1996 Illegal Immigration
Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), aliens arriving
in America without proper immigration documents are immediately
processed for removal. If they fear persecution, they're kept
in detention until an asylum officer determines the threat's credibility.
In 2005, 1850 interdicted Haitians were sent to Guantanamo. Only
nine got hearings and of those, one man got refugee status.
Under the 2002 Homeland Security Act,
at least five separate agencies handle Haitian migrants:
-- the Coast Guard for interdictions;
-- Customs and Border Protection for apprehensions
-- Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) for detentions; and
-- DOJ's Executive Office for Immigration
Review (EOIR) for asylum and removal hearings.
Earlier and more recent policies highlight
how Haitians are mistreated. On October 29, 2002, fleeing poverty,
not repression, 212 Haitians arrived in South Florida, hoping
for asylum and safety. Instead, they were rounded up, handcuffed,
held in detention, and treated like criminals in gross violation
of international law. Families were separated from children, husbands
from wives, and siblings from each other, but it wasn't an isolated
Unknown to most Americans, the Bush administration
had a secret Haitian policy that took affect in late 2001. It
authorized the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), now
DHS/ICE, to detain all South Florida arrivals regardless of their
The result was dramatic, insensitive,
and immediate. The Haitian release rate for those passing interviews
dropped from 96% in November to 6% between mid-December and mid-March
2002. Even Haitians granted asylum weren't immediately released.
On February 25, 2004, days before the
second February 29 coup, the US State Department urged US citizens
in Haiti to leave. In addition, George Bush said all interdicted
Haitians would be returned and those reaching shore would be held
prior to deportation, regardless of their protected status.
Detention conditions then and since are
appalling and for women dangerous with reports of sexual harassment,
abuse, and rape. Men and women both are subjected to frequent
strip searches, lockdowns, nightly sleep interruptions, and often
denial of needed medical care.
Official Haitian policy under George Bush
and currently under Obama is:
-- deny asylum seeker status;
-- summarily return arrivals without screening
-- detain others under harsh conditions
prior to deportation;
-- deny Haitians their rights under international
-- now expeditiously deport over 30,000
refugees to desperate poverty and storm-ravaged conditions in
a country under repressive military occupation.
Haitian and Cuban Policies Contrasted
Except for the Aristide and first Preval
administration years, Haiti has a history of some of the worst
regional repression. So did Cuba until Castro overthrew Batista
and transformed the country politically and economically. For
decades, refugees from both countries sought asylum in America.
Yet Cubans and Haitians get vastly different treatment.
Under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act (as
amended), a "wet foot/dry foot" policy applies under
which interdicted asylum seekers are returned home, but those
reaching shore are inspected for entry, then nearly always allowed
to stay - in contrast to Haitians getting no equivalent treatment
even after "the worst humanitarian disaster in 100 years"
leaving the government unable to handle the overwhelming environmental
and human fallout. TPS would help, but neither the Bush or Obama
administration offered it, so Haitians are left on their own.
It's an old story in America. White Anglo-Saxons
and most Europeans are welcome. For poor blacks, Latinos (except
for Cubans) and most Asians, far different standards apply, none
harsher than for Haitians despite dangers, poverty, and devastation
at home, risks they take at sea, and rights international law
grants them - ones America disdains or observes as it wishes.
In its 1996 Annual Report, the OAS' Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights concluded that America's Haitian interdiction
and repatriation policy violated the following provisions of the
American Declaration of the the Rights and Duties of Man:
-- the right to life;
-- security of person;
-- equality under the law;
-- resort to the courts; and
-- to seek and receive asylum.
Conditions worsened under George Bush,
especially after the February 2004 coup. Since January 20, the
Obama administration is continuing the worst of his predecessor's
policies. This from America's first black president who governs
the same as white ones. Around 30,000 Haitians will be among first
to learn how harshly firsthand.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate
of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago
and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.