From the Haiti Justice blog
The Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) are collaborating on a series of articles on Haitian-Americans’ priorities for a United States policy towards Haiti under a new administration. The series’ first article, on immigration, is below. SIPA’s Caroline Stauffer is conducting the interviews and writing the articles. The opinions in the articles are those of the interviewees, not necessarily of IJDH or SIPA. To join the discussion, post a comment!By Caroline Stauffer
As a humanitarian gesture, the U.S. government should stop deporting Haitians to the country devastated by a series of hurricanes in August and September, activists told the IJDH.
Observing the destruction on the ground, Jean-Yvon Kernizan said the U.S. government should protect Haitians living in the United States, even if protection is indeed temporary. “Someone who is from Gonaives… Gonaives is underwater,” he said by phone from Port-au-Prince on Sept. 18. “If that person is sent back to Haiti… He has nowhere to go. There is no access. I’ve been trying to go there for two weeks. You have to fly by helicopter.”
Kernizan, who runs the nonprofit organization “For a Rising Sun,”
benefiting children in Cite Soleil recently moved back to Haiti after spending 32 years in New York.
The Miami Herald
reported Haitian President René Préval’s announcement at the Americas Conference in Coral Gables, Fla. on Oct. 3., in which he stated that Haiti is literally unable to accept deportees. “Haiti will no longer be able to receive the deported individuals that the United States sends us on a regular basis,” Preval is quoted.In the past few weeks, Haitian-American activists have written contacts in Haiti, urging the government to submit a new request for Temporary Protected Status
(TPS), said Jocelyn Mayas, the New York State Immigrant Community Liaison at the State Department. The formal request must come from Préval or Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis.
The U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security awards TPS for an initial period of 18 months to immigrants who are unable to safely return to their home countries because of armed
conflict, environmental disaster “or other extraordinary and temporary conditions.”
“From experience, we know it [TPS] is not going to happen –
but we still have to try,” said Mayas, who started the Queens Empowerment Center for Haitian immigrants and was part of the delegation that lobbied Washington for TPS in 2004, with the support of the governors of New York and Florida.
The United States granted TPS to Nicaraguan and Honduran immigrants after Hurricane Mitch struck in 1998, and to El Salvadorans following the 2001 earthquake. Following extensions, the status is still available to nationals of the three Central American countries and also currently applies to a handful of African nations, but it has not been granted to Haiti since Congress established the procedure in 1991.
Préval submitted a letter to President Bush requesting TPS on Feb. 7, following Hurricane Noel. The letter emphasized the effect deportations to Haiti could have on the fragile Haitian economy, and noted the development benefits the country gains from remittances through Haitians working in the United States.
On Sept. 20, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel
reported that U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) had halted deportations to Haiti, and would monitor its decision on a day-by-day basis.
Though she had not spoken to ICE following the decision, Mayas distinguished between the people affected by ICE’s policies and those who would benefit from TPS.
“Those people who are being detained are the people who are incarcerated,” she said. “They would not benefit from TPS. TPS would be for people who are living in the United States illegally and are just trying to make ends meet.” Mayas said she would not support extending TPS to those who are currently denied the status because of their criminal records, a policy in place for the citizens of all nations granted TPS in the United States.
Bazalais Jean-Baptiste, an agronomist living in Brooklyn who is active with the Papaye Peasant Movement and the Bassin Zim Education and Development Foundation
, said granting Haitian immigrants TPS now would be one step toward righting a historically unjust U.S. policy towards Haiti. “I think that [TPS] would be fair,” he said. Jean-Baptiste contributed to the Boston-based Haiti Communications Project, which circulated and distributed information during the 1991 coup d’état. “During the coup, there was a lot of killing in Haiti,” he said. “People from Cuba arrived in the United States and there was no repression in Cuba at that time like there was in Haiti. I know that sometimes there’s no explanation for why there is discrimination, but that’s the way it is.”
Judith Prosper, a Haitian-American attorney and IJDH Board Member who practices with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, agreed that the United State’s immigration policy towards Haitians is discriminatory. “The Cuban wet-foot, dry-foot is a ridiculous policy,” she said. Since 1994, U.S. policy has granted residency to Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil, while those intercepted at sea are deported. Residency is not granted to other nationals who manage to reach Florida.
Referring to TPS, Prosper added, “When you pass a specific thing for El Salvador and not for Haiti, and the two countries have a similar situation, people scratch their heads and say, ‘what is going on?’”
Prosper is not, however, convinced that TPS would right this historical wrong.
“The whole Temporary Protected Status thing is based on a fiction; people lobby for it because they think it’s the only thing they can get… not because they think it is the best solution,” she said. Prosper’s primary concern is with the time constraints inherent to TPS. “Unless you know something is going to happen at the end, or have a contingency plan, TPS is not a good idea,” she said.
Prosper is further concerned that TPS would create an underclass among Haitian immigrants in the United States. “Rather than be totally clandestine, they’ll be known to immigration,” she said. “What happens at the end of the [18 months]?”
While TPS beneficiaries may obtain work authorization in the United States, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service’s Web site specifies that it does not lead to permanent resident status.
Based on past experiences, those interviewed for this article did not believe the upcoming U.S. presidential election would affect TPS for Haiti.
“In most cases, people say that Democrats are softer in terms of dealing with refugees,” said Jean-Baptiste. “Clinton really
wasn’t though. No, for me it doesn’t make a difference,
between Republicans and Democrats. It’s just U.S. policies.”
Asked what would be a just immigration policy, Kernizan, speaking from Haiti, had a simple answer.
“You should not make policies against a group of people,” he said. “I would like one policy. There ought to be a single law for everybody.”