Standoff Between the U.S. and Haiti: 30,000 Migrants at Issue

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
Haitian Times

Haitians in South Florida celebrated Obama's victory on Nov. 4, 2008. (Photo: Haitian Times)

In one of our end-of-the-year pieces last December, Haitian-American journalist Macollvie Jean-François summed up the hopes of Haitians in the U.S. after many of them helped elect Barack Obama to the presidency: “People here hope for a policy toward Haiti that is comprehensive, streamlined, smart and empathetic.”

It seems those hopes are not being realized despite the change at the White House. Monday, an article in the South Florida-Sun Sentinel revealed that 30,000 Haitians have been ordered to leave the U.S., after a temporary halt in deportations had made many hopeful they would be granted temporary stays.

Haiti has reacted by blocking the deportations through a simple measure: it is not processing travel documents for its citizens, leaving some 600 of them in immigration detention centers in the U.S.

The Sun-Sentinel‘s Luis F. Pérez and Georgia East reported,

Haiti took the stand after a series of brutal storms lashed the island last summer and after repeatedly asking the United States for, and being denied, what’s known as temporary protected status. The status would allow Haitians in this country illegally to stay and work temporarily. Haitian officials say the country needs to rebuild and can’t handle the return of its citizens.

As a result, the newspaper noted, deportations have dropped from 156 a month to about 17 a month since October.

Temporary protected status, or TPS, has been granted to other countries affected by natural disasters or war in the past, including Sudan, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.


Haitians protest last April against the rising cost of living - Photo: AFP/NPR

During last year’s hurricane season, four major storms ravaged Haiti. Hundreds died, and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. This came after the food riots that shook Haiti in April, adding despair to a country that’s not only the poorest in the hemisphere but also the most unstable in institutional terms.

Authorities had halted deportations after the storms, but restarted them in December.

“We were monitoring the conditions on the ground and we determined it was appropriate to resume removals to Haiti,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Nicole Navas told the Sun-Sentinel back then.

But Haitian officials say the country cannot withstand such a big influx of returnees.

“Haiti is still trying to recover,” Ralph LaTortue, the Haitian consul general in Miami, told the newspaper for the story published Monday. “It’s going to be a very long rebuilding process.”

In the meantime, he said, Haitian consular officials are not processing the travel documents required for deportees “until further notice.”

Six hundred Haitians are in immigration detention centers and 240 more are under house arrest but being monitored through ankle bracelets. According to the Sun-Sentinel, U.S. Immigration authorities are pressuring some of them to obtain their travel documents on their own, so they can be deported.

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AboutDiego Graglia
Diego Graglia is a bilingual multimedia journalist who has worked at major media outlets in the U.S. and Latin America. He is currently the editor-in-chief at Expansion, Meixco’s leading business magazine.