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In the wake of last year’s earthquake, American immigration authorities temporarily stopped deporting Haitians. Now, the deportations have resumed, but human rights organizations say the situation on the island is so bad that any deportation is essentially a ‘death sentence.’ A look at the ethical and legal questions behind the U.S. policy.
- Carrie Bettinger-Lopez Professor of Law, University of Miami School of Law
- Farrin Anello Supervising Attorney and Teaching Fellow, Immigration Clinic, University of Miami School of Law
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe United States placed a one-year moratorium on deportations to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. On January 20 of this year, those deportations resumed. Haitian officials routinely detained the deportees and within days, one man died of cholera in prison. Some advocacy groups say that sending Haitians back to Haiti constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Joining us now to have that conversation is Carrie Bettinger-Lopez, professor of law at the University of Miami School of Law. Carrie Bettinger-Lopez, thank you for joining us.
PROF. CARRIE BETTINGER-LOPEZThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by telephone is Farrin Anello, supervising attorney and teaching fellow with the Immigration Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law. Farrin Anello, thank you for joining us.
MS. FARRIN ANELLOThank you for having me.
NNAMDIFarrin, before we go too far, we should probably understand who are the Haitians who are being deported and why?
ANELLOSo the people in this group who are at risk of the most imminent deportation are all people who have been put into the immigration system for one reason or another. They are -- many of them are people who've been in this country for many, many years, long-term permanent residents. And they have families here, children here who are U.S. citizens, spouses, parents, et cetera. You know, in this group under our -- since 1996, we've had very harsh laws in this country that say that even if you have been here for a long time, even if you have a green card, if you commit even very minor criminal offenses, you can be subject to deportation.
ANELLOAnd so the people in this group who are most imminently at risk of deportation have criminal offenses. Some of them are very minor, non-violent offenses. Some of them are very old, things that happened 10, 20 years go. But they're all at risk of deportation now because after this one-year moratorium, the U.S. government has decided to start removing people to Haiti again.
NNAMDITwo aspects of this. One, you underscore the point that quite a few of these people are legal migrants to the United States who, because of the nature of the crime they have committed, can be deported. Two, when I say nature of the crime, you seem to suggest that people are being deported for crimes that are non-violent. And in the minds of some listeners, that means people are being deported for traffic tickets or jaywalking. Is that correct?
ANELLOWell, not necessarily traffic tickets or jaywalking, but extremely minor offenses such as marijuana possession, such as petty theft. It could be -- they could be a wide range of crimes, but they include very, very minor crimes.
NNAMDIDoes it have to be a felony?
ANELLONo, it does not have to be a felony.
NNAMDIIt can be a misdemeanor.
NNAMDIBut there are wide -- there's a wide range of crimes for which people can get deported.
ANELLOWide range of crimes, exactly.
NNAMDIWhat changed in 1996?
ANELLOWell, in 1996, a law was passed that made it much easier for people to be deported based on committing a wide range of crimes. It also changed the appeals process, made it much harder for people to appeal their cases. It changed quite a few aspects of the law and generally made it much easier for people to be deported.
NNAMDII have to make that distinction because in the first part of our conversation about the Secure Communities Program, we were talking about people who found themselves being deported merely, it would appear, for reporting a crime or finding themselves in violation of a regulation that was not a crime, but ended up being deported anyway. So I'm trying to make that distinction here.
ANELLOSo -- yes. So that's true. And there are other reasons that people can be deported other than committing crimes. People who are, you know, are here without status can be deported on that basis. And so there are other reasons that people can be put into proceedings other than having committed crimes. And in the context of Haiti, I think the real concern is that, you know, the bottom line is regardless of what crime the person has committed, they should not be subject to what is essentially a death sentence by sending them to a country where the conditions are so life-threatening right now, where there is a cholera epidemic. And, particularly, when someone is deported to Haiti, they -- and if they have any criminal background -- they are detained in a Haitian police station.
NNAMDIWhich brings me to Carrie Bettinger-Lopez, right. Carrie Bettinger-Lopez, can you describe for our listeners the process that occurs once these deportees arrive in Port-au-Prince or in Haiti or any places?
BETTINGER-LOPEZThe process is really marked by a lack of process and by extremely horrific and inhumane conditions that would, I think, horrify any American who heard about them. I went to Port-au-Prince, Haiti in February to interview 10 of the 27 deportees from Jan. 28, which was the first deportation of Haitians since the earthquake. And what they described to me was really just absolutely shocking and unbelievable. They described being brought on the plane and sitting on the tarmac of the Port-au-Prince airport for five hours, after which they were met with armed and masked men who took them off the plane, yelling insults at them, which really goes, by the way, to the stigma against deportees in Haiti, which I'll talk a little bit more about in a moment.
BETTINGER-LOPEZThey were brought to three different police stations, where these 27 men were placed in -- really in conditions that are -- you know, resemble a cattle car. About 17 men were placed in DCPJ, which is the largest police station of the three. They were placed in a narrow hallway around three feet by 15 feet, crowded on top of each other, not even big enough for all of them to lie down on the concrete floors that were covered with insects and feces and vomit and trash and blood.
NNAMDIGot the picture. After the January death of one man, it's my understanding that deportations were temporarily halted but were resumed in mid-April. Have you heard from U.S. government officials why they were resumed and whether anything has changed?
BETTINGER-LOPEZYes. We filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights right before that first deportation in January, trying to stop the deportations and urging the Inter-American Commission to tell the United States not to engage in the deportations. The United States did that deportation as you note. And then, shortly thereafter, they stopped the deportations for the reason you mentioned. Wildrick Guerrier, a healthy 34-year-old man, died of cholera-like symptoms after he was detained in the cells.
BETTINGER-LOPEZNow we then did a lot of advocacy alongside many tireless advocates, folks from immigrants' rights communities and Haitian communities across America. And we tried -- we called out to the administration to stop the deportations. The administration then put forward, without really much ado, a policy. They posted a policy online that they said that they would be following, guiding their decision about who to deport. The policy was terrible, and it basically gave them carte blanche to deport anybody who they wanted in exactly the manner that Farrin described.
NNAMDIBecause our time is short, I'd like you to tell us briefly about the stigma of deportation, because there's a stigma of deportation not only in Haiti but in any country in which there are a large number of deportees.
BETTINGER-LOPEZSure. The stigma in Haiti is particularly bad. Haitian Americans, many of whom, are -- haven't lived in Haiti since they were incensed and some of whom are actually Bohemian, Cuban or other nationality born who have never been in Haiti before, don't speak -- many of them don't speak good Creole or French. They don't know how to survive in Haiti. Many of them have never visited Haiti. And they have different attributes, physical attributes or language attributes that mark them as American -- tattoos, gold teeth, corn rows -- but also just the way they carry themselves, the way they dress, the way they speak, and they are marked as American.
NNAMDIAs a result, they can become victims themselves.
BETTINGER-LOPEZAbsolutely. They are stigmatized. They receive death threats. And they're turned away and they have doors slammed in their faces every time they look for a job there.
NNAMDIBack to you, Farrin Anello, what is the likelihood of having the Obama administration change these policies? And what do you say to people who say, look, you're using the chaos in Haiti and the cholera epidemic as yet another excuse because, fundamentally, you oppose these deportations anyway?
ANELLOWell, to address the first question, we are still working very, very hard to try to get the Obama administration to take a better look at this policy. I think that, you know -- and this maybe addresses the second question as well -- I think that this is an extreme case. This is -- we're not talking about a situation where people would rather live in one place than another. We're talking about a situation where their lives are truly at risk if deported. And we've -- you know, very -- in a very tragic way, I think this has been illustrated by what happened when the first plane went out, where not only were these 27 men held under the truly horrific conditions that Carrie described, but one of them actually became ill and died nine days after being deported.
ANELLOAnd this was a 34-year-old man. So, you know, this is an extreme case. We're really talking about the right to life of the people who are being deported in addition to, you know, the rights of their family members who are being left behind and U.S. citizen family members, loss of permanent resident family members who are remaining in this country. And...
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. But thank you so much for joining us. Carrie Bettinger-Lopez is a...
NNAMDI...law professor at the University of Miami. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Farrin Anello is supervising attorney and teaching fellow at the Immigration Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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