Fr. Michael A. Evans, S.J., National Director, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, co-authored this piece.
In early December, less than a year after the devastating earthquake that sent Haiti reeling into a downward spiral of death, destruction, displacement, and cholera, the Department of Homeland Security quietly announced to a small group of legal service providers and Haitian Americans that it planned to resume deportations of some Haitian nationals residing in the United States.
Human rights and religious organizations warned the U.S. government in face-to-face meetings, letters and phone calls that this new policy was dangerous and immoral, that deporting Haitians to Haiti at this time would place strain on an already over-stressed system. We warned that Haiti did not have the capacity to guarantee the safety of those deported and that Haitians who are deported are placed in holding cells with no access to food and clean water until they are fetched by a family member. These facilities had already proven to be rife with cholera. The U.S. government assured advocates and experts that a reintegration plan for those deported would be in place and that the Haitian government had given them guarantees that the human rights and human dignity of deportees would be respected.
Despite the pleas of American Jewish World Service and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA to reconsider the timing of the deportations, the Department of Homeland Security proceeded with its plan, rounding up about 300 Haitians up in Florida, New York, and other areas of the country, and shipping many of them to Louisiana to be prepped for deportation. Wildrick Guerrier, a 34-year-old man who had served an 18-month prison term before he was taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody was among those sent to Louisiana, away from his family, his legal service provider, and his fiancée. Mr. Guerrier was reportedly frightened to return to country he had not set foot in since he was a teenager, a country inhabited by more than a million people displaced by the earthquake, in the grips of a cholera epidemic, and where he had no family connections.
On January 20th Mr. Guerrier and 26 other Haitian nationals were returned to Haiti. He was indeed placed in a Haitian jail where he was given access to no food or water. A week after his deportation, after suffering cholera-like symptoms including extreme vomiting and uncontrollable diarrhea, Mr. Guerrier died.
Mr. Guerrier's death was predictable and avoidable. As faith-based organizations laboring to ease suffering and support reconstruction in Haiti, we are writing this piece, with the hope that no more preventable deaths will result from this wrong-headed policy that not only undermines the relief efforts in Haiti, but also violates our common belief in the sanctity and dignity of the human person.
Even following this tragic death, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not yet issued any written guidelines explaining their new policy on Haitian deportations. Instead it has given verbal briefings to a limited group of stakeholders stating that the U.S. government will initially detain and deport individuals with "serious criminal convictions" but has not defined what that means.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and American Jewish World Service support the enforcement of immigration laws, but we are concerned that the continuing state of emergency in Haiti will jeopardize the lives of those deported and divert resources from the recovery and reconstruction effort. One man has already been sentenced to "death by deportation." Surely the United States will not contribute to further needless deaths.
We are also concerned that it will be nearly impossible for the Haitian state to provide for the safe and dignified reintegration of those deported, many of whom are long-time U.S. residents with no resources in Haiti. We are disturbed by the lack of clarity and transparency of DHS, which has provided no details as to how this might be accomplished. It is difficult to understand why this decision has been made at a time when Haiti is experiencing increasing political unrest and rising criminal activity. Placing the additional burden of dealing with these deportees on already overwhelmed Haitian government officials at this time is a bad decision.
As Claudine Magloire, Mr. Guerrier's fiancé and herself a U.S. permanent resident, lamented:
"The U.S. government has caused my fiancée to die," she said. "The deportations to Haiti need to stop."
We call on the Department of Homeland Security to clarify their new policy and to provide an explanation of how conditions have materially changed in Haiti to justify the resumption of deportations, which have been suspended since the earthquake. We applauded the initial decision to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) after the earthquake and in this context hope we can return to policies that reflect our national values.