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Video of Haitian Deportees Brings Home the Reality of Disgraceful ICE Removal Policy

Georgeanne M. Usova,
Former Senior Legislative Counsel
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March 29, 2011

A new video from the New York Times is helping shed light on the plight of those recently deported from the U.S. to Haiti. In the piece, “Strangers in a Strange Land,” deportees lead cameras on a tour of the hardship they face daily. The conditions they expose range from appalling to life-threatening — dangerously overcrowded prisons, housing crawling with roaches, and camps lacking even the most basic necessities. The footage paints a picture of a nation without a functioning infrastructure, which is certainly in no position to receive deportees. The devastation Haiti suffered in a massive 2010 earthquake has only been compounded by a recent cholera epidemic that has already killed thousands and is projected to affect between 400,000 and 800,000 more.

Shockingly, in spite of this catastrophic humanitarian crisis, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chose to resume deportations of Haitian nationals in January 2011. Individuals with criminal records who have fully completed their sentences in the U.S. are being sent back to Haiti at risk of facing persecution, cruel and inhumane conditions, torture, or even death. Despite not having violated Haitian law, the deportees are detained in Haitian prisons, where substandard facilities make the risk of cholera even greater than elsewhere in the country. The ACLU called on the Department of Homeland Security in December and again in March to end this practice, which both violates U.S. human rights obligations and deprives deportees of crucial due process rights.

Basic human rights principles proscribe the U.S. from deporting people to another state where they are likely to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment. But life inside Haitian jails and prisons is cruel, inhumane and degrading for detainees. Prisoners often lack basic resources like water and electricity, and — of particular concern during the current cholera outbreak — have little or no access to medical care. In fact, of the 27 detainees already deported, one previously healthy man died of “cholera-like symptoms” within days of his arrival in Haiti.

So why has ICE resumed deportations to Haiti in the midst of a human rights crisis? ICE has claimed that its policy is a matter of public safety, saying that it only deports “the worst of the worst.” But ICE’s claims don’t hold up — in fact, some of the deportees, as the New York Times video demonstrates, were convicted only of minor nonviolent offenses such as drug possession. All of the deportees had already served their time, and many were living in their U.S. communities at the time they were rounded up and deported by ICE.

Deportation of these individuals, many of whom have lived in the U.S. since childhood and have few remaining connections to Haiti, must be halted as long as Haiti remains in a human rights crisis. By continuing this injustice, ICE is violating principles of individualized due process. Deportees have no right to appointed counsel in the U.S.

In a recent speech to the U.N. Human Rights Counsel, U.S. Department of State legal advisor Harold Koh noted the importance of living up to our principles when it comes to immigration policies and treatment of immigration detainees, “What attracts immigrants to the United States — like my own parents, and those of many others in our delegation,” said Koh, “is the promise of universal values embodied in our Constitution, with our continuing efforts to ensure that we deliver on that promise.”

In Haiti, we have sadly failed to deliver. One deportee has already died in Haiti. It is time for ICE to reverse course and to suspend all Haitian deportations, until the human rights crisis in Haiti passes.

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