Logo: Michelle Karshan and staff and participants of Alternative Chance/Chans Altenativ in Haiti

Continue to Suspend Deportation to Haiti by Michelle Karshan

Continue to suspend deportation to Haiti
by Michelle Karshan

Sun Sentinel, January 19, 2011

Following Haiti's earthquake, the United States made a fine humanitarian gesture when it temporarily suspended deportations to Haiti. When it revealed last month that it would resume criminal deportations to Haiti, it begged the question — why now?

Conditions have not significantly changed since Washington saw fit to suspend deportations. In fact, some have worsened. Haiti has seen more tragedy with a subsequent hurricane, flooding and deadly cholera epidemic. With barely half of pledged monies reaching Haiti, former President Bill Clinton, who co-chairs Haiti's Interim Reconstruction Commission, admitted that the recovery has been slow. President Barack Obama even opined this week that "too much rubble continues to clog the streets, too many people are still living in tents, and for so many Haitians progress has not come fast enough."

Last month, the United States issued three detailed travel advisories enumerating life-threatening security and health conditions in Haiti and advised Americans to bring their own cholera prevention and treatment supplies with them if they must travel there. And the World Health Organization announced that the cholera epidemic has not yet peaked.

Haiti's government has been in a political quagmire since the November presidential elections. Street violence followed, together with demands for the removal of Haiti's president, and a call for an interim government to be put in place.

During fragile moments in Haiti's political life, deportations seem to escalate. After President Jean-Betrand Aristide was forced out in 2004, a U.S.-backed interim government was granted its request that the United States suspend criminal deportations.

By contrast, immediately following President Rene Preval's inauguration in 2006, the United States resumed criminal deportations before a prime minister and government were even in place. Taking its cue from the United States, the Dominican Republic stepped up its deportations to Haiti, forcing 900 Haitians to Haiti recently. The onslaught of deportees from both directions strains Haiti's government and NGOs alike.

The United States says it has its own security concerns and doesn't want to be obliged by law to release dangerous criminals into our communities. However, the 100-plus Haitians recently arrested and queued up to mount U.S. marshal flights to Haiti were already at liberty in our communities, living with their families, and reporting in regularly to deportation officers. Most are legal, permanent residents, many are married to U.S. citizens, have U.S. citizen children, jobs, and many are not violent offenders.

Haiti imprisons criminal deportees when they arrive. They face life-threatening, illegal and inhumane detention conditions. Cholera has already killed more than 58 detainees and sickened 405 prisoners. President Obama said recently that "the people of Haiti will continue to have an enduring partner in the United States." Our government needs to match words with deeds by continuing the suspension of all deportations to Haiti.

Michelle Karshan is executive director of Alternative Chance, a self-help, peer counseling, advocacy program for criminal deportees in Haiti founded in 1996.

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