|BY RUTH MORRIS, South Florida Sun-SentinelCiting pre-election strife, attorneys seek to halt deportations to HaitiMIAMI – Immigration attorneys across the United States filed motions Thursday asking federal officials to halt deportations to Haiti, citing bloody civil strife and “the proven inability of the Haitian state to protect its own people” ahead of presidential elections.The motions will eventually cover hundreds of Haitian migrants, many of them based in South Florida, who face imminent removal because they lost asylum claims, or because they ran afoul of the law before becoming citizens. Along with community leaders and rights groups, the lawyers argue the cases should be closed because catastrophic and ever-deteriorating human rights conditions in Haiti make it unsafe to send anyone back.|
Haiti has been rocked by rampant kidnappings, political attacks and street fights in the run-up to Feb. 7 elections. Earlier this week, gunmen killed two Jordanian peacekeepers working with the United Nations.
“It’s immoral to deport anyone given such horrendous conditions, and it’s getting worse, not better,” said Ira Kurzban, a prominent lawyer who has worked on several high-profile Haitian cases. There were simultaneous news conferences Thursday in Miami, New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia announcing the joint legal action.
South Florida lawyers and community groups stressed that the current policy is splitting families and depriving American children of their parents’ care.
At the Miami news conference, Karline St. Louis, of Boynton Beach, said she lived with the constant fear that her husband, Kevin, would be deported to Haiti and kidnapped or killed. She said police stopped Kevin after he turned the wrong way at a traffic signal three months ago. They turned him over to immigration authorities when they realized he had no documents.
Since then she has worked two jobs as a phlebotomist to support their 3-year-old son, who is an American citizen, and to continue sending remittances to her mother and sister in Haiti, where unemployment soars over 65 percent.
“I’m behind on the bills. Sometimes I’m walking and I don’t know where I’m going,” she said as her son, Rayvin, chewed on her thumb.
“He’s scared to go to Haiti,” she said of her husband, whose deportation is expected any day. “They kill you in Haiti.”
Although Karline St. Louis has American citizenship, her husband’s deportation order precludes the possibility of her applying for resident status on his behalf. Once deported, he will be barred from re-entering the United States, even as the husband of a U.S. citizen, for 10 years.
Lawyers and community leaders at a Miami news conference said the nationwide legal campaign followed unanswered calls for TPS, or temporary protective status. The special immigration shield hands illegal immigrants a work permit and allows them to stay in the United States if their homeland has been paralyzed by civil conflict or natural disaster.
Thousands of Floridians from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras currently enjoy the temporary protection. Haitian-American leaders have been pushing for TPS for their countrymen for three years, but they say their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Ariol Eugene, who helped write a key motion in the legal campaign, said the U.S.-based Haitians were helping to build stability in Haiti with their constant money transfers to impoverished family members back home.
“We are not asking for a handout,” he said. “We are asking the government to temporarily stop deportations to give Haiti some time to recuperate.”
The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did not immediately return calls seeking comment on Haitian requests for TPS.
Haitian-American rights advocate Marleine Bastien, vice chairwoman of Miami’s Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, said her group was pinning its hopes on individual court motions because the White House had failed to respond.
“I believe racism is at the root of this,” she said. “If any country qualifies for TPS, Haiti does.”