Suits filed to freeze Haitian deportations
By Yvonne Abraham, Globe Staff
Citing catastrophic conditions in Haiti, lawyers filed motions in courts in Boston and across the country yesterday, asking that immigration courts freeze deportations to the Caribbean nation.
The motions were filed because efforts to persuade the Department of Homeland Security to grant Haitians temporary protected status have failed for two years. Temporary protected status allows nationals from war-torn, strife-ridden, or environmentally ravaged nations to remain and work in the United States until conditions in their home countries improve.
Lawyers took the unusual step yesterday of appealing to immigration courts for another remedy in cities with large Haitian populations.
”The DHS has failed to act, despite full awareness of the horrors being suffered by the civilian population in Haiti,” reads the motion, which was filed on behalf of Haitian clients in Boston; Washington, D.C.; New York; Miami; and Philadelphia. ”The majority of the population now teeters on the brink of death from hunger, disease, and displacement. Without [temporary protected status], nationals of Haiti are subject to forced repatriation into a country where the government cannot prevent immediate threats to their lives, freedom, and welfare.”
Because the US government has failed to act, the motion continues, the courts should close deportation cases temporarily ”to protect the lives and freedom of innocent children, women, and men.”
Chaos has reigned in Haiti in recent years. The resignation and departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004 deepened unrest. Murders and kidnappings are commonplace.
Almost half of the population is undernourished, 65 percent live below the poverty line, and environmental disasters and social unrest have permanently compromised food supplies, according to United Nations reports cited in the motion.
Elections, long postponed, have now been set for early February.
At least 200 lawyers intended to file the motions on behalf of their clients yesterday, said attorney Thomas M. Griffin of Philadelphia, who is coordinating the effort. He said he expects many more of the motions to be filed on behalf of Haitian clients in future.
The US government currently extends temporary protected status to nationals of seven countries: Burundi, El Salvador, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Somalia, and Sudan.
According to federal law, to qualify for the status, people must come from countries where there is an ongoing armed conflict, where an environmental disaster has resulted in ”a substantial, but temporary disruption of living conditions,” or where conditions prevent nationals from returning to their nation in safety.
Still, Haitians do not qualify for temporary protected status under the narrow criteria defined by Congress, said Homeland Security spokesman Dan Kane.
”Since President Aristide’s resignation and departure from Haiti, the United States has been engaged in efforts to help the interim president of Haiti begin a process of rebuilding democracy,” he said. ”At this time, we do not believe there is any need for [temporary protected status] based on these narrow conditions provided by Congress.”
Haitians and their advocates vehemently disagree.
”They’re wrong,” said Paromita Shah, a lawyer at the National Immigration Project in Boston who helped organize the filings. ”The international community [agrees] that Haiti’s human rights conditions are absolutely atrocious and that the government in power now has been unable to secure the safety of the citizens.
”There are mass arbitrary detentions and massacres,” Shah continued. ”I just reject that statement from DHS.”
The lawyers are not asking for amnesty, Shah said, but only for a temporary stay on the deportation proceedings of the thousands of Haitians who are likely to be sent back there for being here illegally.
”All we are asking for is that Haitians be accorded the same protections as other nationals get when catastrophic conditions occur in their home countries,” Shah said. ”This is an international human rights issue.”
Haitians are frustrated at what they see as discrimination against them by the US government.
”The US government is advising people not to go to Haiti, but, in the meanwhile, they are deporting families to Haiti,” said Carline Desire, executive director of the Association of Haitian Women.
”But we are hopeful,” she added. ”We have a lot of allies.”
Yvonne Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company