Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Legal campaign seeks to curb U.S. deportations to Haiti

Posted on Thu, Jan. 19, 20062
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BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
jcharles@MiamiHerald.comIMMIGRATION
Legal campaign seeks to curb U.S. deportations to Haiti
Frustrated by Homeland Security’s inaction, immigration attorneys will seek a temporary halt to deportations of Haitians to their Caribbean country.As an increasingly violent Haiti staggers toward long postponed elections, lawyers representing Haitian migrants will ask immigration judges in the coming weeks to halt all deportations to Haiti temporarily.

The coordinated effort on behalf of Haitians facing deportation comes after unsuccessful attempts by immigration advocates — and Haiti’s own interim prime minister — to get the Bush administration to grant temporary protected status, known as TPS, to thousands of undocumented Haitians living in the United States.

By filing individual motions on behalf of their Haitian clients, lawyers would be leaving it up to immigration judges and not the federal government to decide whether to grant a temporary stay until conditions in Haiti improve.

Although it isn’t unusual for attorneys to ask a judge to issue a continuance or administratively close a case, Miami immigration attorney Ira Kurzban said the current effort is ”extraordinarily unusual,” because it’s happening as part of a concerted effort by immigration lawyers nationwide.

It is unclear how many lawyers will file the request on behalf of an estimated 20,000 undocumented Haitian migrants living in the United States or whether immigration judges will adhere to the motions by attorneys.

Still, the coordinated effort, which is officially being launched in key U.S. cities today, including Miami, may be the best hope for undocumented Haitians at a time when anti-immigration sentiments are sweeping Washington and when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is considering ending temporary protected status for hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and Hondurans.

”This is a very small Band-Aid, but a giant recognition there is a problem in Haiti,” said Thomas Griffin, a Philadelphia immigration attorney, who spent hours drafting the motion and has traveled to Haiti extensively since 2000.

The motion, which Griffin said has already been requested by about 200 lawyers across the country, states that “despite the ongoing chaos that continues in Haiti, including brutal civil strife, documented bloody political conflict, indisputable countrywide insecurity and the proven inability of the Haitian state to protect its own people, the United States continues to refuse refuge to fleeing Haitians.”

In addition to Miami, the effort is being launched today with scheduled press conferences in key cities with growing Haitian populations, such as Philadelphia, Boston, Washington and New York. It comes a little less than three weeks before Haiti’s Feb. 7 presidential election, which has been postponed repeatedly.

Fifteen months ago, interim Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue formally asked the homeland agency to grant temporary protected status for Haitians, but to no avail. The privilege, which would allow Haitians temporarily to live and work in the United States legally, has not been granted.

”The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State continue to closely monitor the situation there,” said State Department spokesman Peter Eisenhauer.

Miami attorney Ariol Eugene, who is spearheading the campaign on behalf of the Haitian Lawyers Association, said he plans to file the motion on behalf of 10 of his Haitian clients.

”It is very clear the conditions in Haiti are horrendous,” Eugene said. “The government right now cannot protect its own people. It is in the best interest of the U.S. government and Florida to have stability in Haiti. When there is no stability in Haiti, there is a mass exodus.”

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