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article imageHaitians face deportation as 2010 quake reprieve expires

By Leila MACOR (AFP)     Jan 25, 2017 in World

Bernedy Prosper is afraid his 23-year-old son Harold will die if he is deported from the United States back to Haiti.

Prosper, 52, had hoped Harold could benefit from a special status granted to Haitian immigrants in 2010 after a devastating earthquake struck the impoverished Caribbean nation.

Instead, Harold is one of more than 4,000 Haitians awaiting deportation due to a sudden policy reversal late last year as then-president Barack Obama was preparing to leave office.

With President Donald Trump now in power, elected on a vow to build a wall on the Mexican border and halt illegal immigration, Harold's situation looks bleak.

"I ran away for my life and now my kid had to do the same," said a despairing Prosper as he stood in an immigration aid center in Little Haiti, the heart of the Haitian diaspora in dilapidated north Miami.

Prosper himself arrived in Florida on a boat without immigration documents in 2000 and obtained political asylum.

He tried to bring his son over to join him, but Harold got tired of waiting for the legal process to run its course, and decided to try his luck crossing the Mexican border illegally.

Instead he was caught in San Diego, California, just as deportations of Haitians are ramping up dramatically compared to last January when, according to government figures, only 267 Haitians were awaiting deportation.

"I believe that if he is put back to Haiti, I have no more son," said Prosper, his head down and voice a low monotone.

"I know they will kill him," he said.

- 'Haiti has improved' -

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and has not fully recovered from the earthquake -- some 55,000 people still live in temporary housing, most in appalling conditions.

But late last year, Obama decided Haitians no longer qualified for Temporary Protection Status (TPS), as the status reserved for victims of natural disasters is known.

"The situation in Haiti has improved sufficiently to permit the US government to remove Haitian nationals on a more regular basis, consistent with the practice for nationals from other nations," said then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in announcing the policy change September 22.

A few weeks later, on October 4, Hurricane Matthew tore through southwestern Haiti. The powerful Category 4 hurricane killed more than 500 people, left thousands homeless, and triggered a cholera outbreak.

US authorities halted deportations for a month, but in early November began to "significantly expand removal operations," Johnson said in a subsequent statement.

Randy McGrorty, an attorney with Catholic Legal Services -- a group that offers legal aid for immigrants -- says it is inhumane to deport Haitians to their storm-ravaged, earthquake-damaged country.

The TPS will remain in effect until July, and Haitians who are already protected do not risk deportation.

But since October more than 1,600 other Haitians have been deported.

"We get desperate phone calls from people. Unfortunately there's nothing we can do," said Steve Forester, who works for the non-profit Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

"It is simply wrong, insensitive, immoral, even obscene, to be deporting people now, knowing the suffering of the people there and that the government does not have the ability in Haiti to care for these people," he said.

- 600,000 Haitians in US -

Following the earthquake many Haitians migrated to Brazil. But as the South American giant's economy took a downward turn, they are picking up stakes and heading to Central America in hopes of making it to Mexico and then slipping across the border into the United States.

As of 2012, some 600,000 Haitian immigrants were in the United States, most of them in Florida, or about 1.5 percent of all foreigners in the country, according to the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.

Forester believes that US treatment of Haitian migrants -- especially when compared to the benefits that Cuban immigrants have received since 1966 -- is essentially racist.

"Haitians are black. They do not have the political power of Hispanics in general in the US because they don’t have the numbers. They don't have the political power in Florida," said Forrester.

Now the fate of the Haitians is in the hands of Trump, who has vowed to deport as many as three million immigrants who are in the country illegally and have criminal records.

"I hope he will decide that it is wrong to deport anyone to Haiti now, that a strong and secure Haiti is in our national interest," said Forester.

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