In 1983, through Human Rights First (then known as the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights), Jeffrey took his first asylum case. The client, a Haitian refugee, had fled the murderous Duvalier regime. Never mind that Haiti was, like today, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere; but for Haiti’s political violence, Jeffrey’s client would have stayed home. The U.S. government was intent on deporting him there.
An immigration judge granted asylum to that Haitian. Many other Haitians eventually won permission to stay in the U.S. – through asylum, family relations, the 1986 legalization program, and other means. But the process never was as easy for them as for refugees from that other island “paradise,” Cuba. That’s because Cuba is communist. Yet if you had to live in one or the other, which would you choose? Consider this: There’s no data on comparative kangaroo life expectancies, but for humans, in Cuba it’s 78; in Haiti it’s 61.
The earthquake that hit northern Japan in March 2011 was 900 times more powerful than the Janaury 2010 Haiti quake. Japan is rich (GDP per capita, $34,000) and its structures are sturdy; even so, about 18,000 died in that quake, the related tsunami, and their aftermath. In Haiti (GDP per capita, $1,300), where records are unreliable and the infrastructure is crumbling, the 2010 quake death toll has been estimated at between 92,000 and 316,000.
U.S. deportations to Japan were suspended in March. Japan was considered to be in no condition to receive additional people. Yet in January 2011, the U.S. began to deport people to Haiti, which on its best day is more chaotic and dangerous than Japan on its worst day.
Our government says that Haitian deportees are “dangerous” and that their mere presence in the U.S. puts the rest of us at risk. That’s not true; their convictions were for non-violent crimes. Many have American families that depend on them for support. And as ex-cons, they have paid their debt to U.S. society as ordered by our courts. They are square with the house.
Whether ex-cons who are square with the house should be deported anyway, is a debate for another day.
But now or later, Haitians are deported because our government chooses to deport them. The law does not require that they be deported at any particular time, without regard to the terrible conditions in Haiti.
And those conditions are truly terrible. There is not enough food, potable water, medicine, or shelter for the Haitian population as it is.
If you’re a pet owner, you would not subject your dog or cat to Haitian conditions. What kind of people are we if we subject human beings to that poverty and chaos?
What’s more, the Haitian government routinely jails returnees from the U.S. Haiti is hell for ordinary Haitians; what do you think it’s like in a Haitian jail? Already at least one deportee has died due to the foul prision conditions, and many others have become violently ill.
The Los Angeles Times published an editorial about this. It says that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights “took note of the deplorable, inhumane conditions in Haitian jails, particularly the complete lack of medical attention, and said the deportations should be halted, at least until the Haitian government can guarantee improvement.” But that didn’t stop the Obama administration’s deportation machine.
When it comes to Haitians, 2011 looks like 1983 all over again.