By Representative Alcee L. Hastings
This past summer, only months after deadly food riots, Haiti was hit by four back-to-back hurricanes and tropical storms. Thousands lost their homes, many were left starving and isolated from humanitarian assistance, nearly 800 lives were taken and as of last month, over 300 people remain missing.
Though recovery efforts have slowly commenced, much of Haiti remains in a state of destruction. Up to 40,000 people are in shelters, and severe malnutrition concerns have arisen throughout rural areas. It, therefore, came as an utter shock to hear that our government recently decided to restart deporting people to this fragile nation.
Deportation flights of Haitian nationals back to Haiti had been suspended in the immediate aftermath of the storms after considerable pressure from congressional offices and local immigration advocates. Many of us hoped that this was a sign that the Department of Homeland Security and this administration were finally taking note of the struggles facing Haiti and recognizing that it would be dangerous and inhumane to send people back to Haiti given the country’s current state. Yet once again, this administration has turned its back on our hemisphere’s poorest nation by pursuing this dangerous and irresponsible course of action.
While the resumption of deportations is troubling enough, the way in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) went about implementing this change is further disappointing. When deportations were initially suspended, ICE assured me and other congressional members and community organizations that we would be adequately notified should deportation flights resume.
Yet, when the decision to resume flights was made, Democratic offices were never contacted about the change while Republican offices were — though those notifications did not come until after deportations had already resumed. Even now, ICE has refused to provide an adequate explanation as to what prompted this sudden change in policy and who made the decision.
Throughout South Florida, hundreds of our constituents are shocked and confused by this abrupt and unexpected announcement. Many are concerned for the physical safety of loved ones who may very well be dropped into life-threatening conditions. Instead of endangering the lives of Haitians, the United States should be working to help Haiti help itself. We should not only suspend deportations to Haiti but also grant Haitians currently residing in the United States Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
TPS allows certain foreign nationals to remain temporarily in the United States when any of the following conditions exist in their home country: there is ongoing armed conflict posing a serious threat to personal safety; it is requested by a foreign state that temporarily cannot handle the return of nationals due to environmental disaster; or when extraordinary and temporary conditions in a foreign state exist that prevent aliens from returning.
Haiti has long met the requirements for TPS, and it is now more vital than ever that the United States extend this helping hand to Haiti, as it has done for other nations in similar situations.
The United States has provided $235 million in aid to Haiti in the past year. This amount is dwarfed, however, by the nearly $1 billion in remittances sent by Haitians back to Haiti, totaling approximately one third of the country’s GDP. The repatriation of Haitians will only further hamper Haiti’s recovery efforts.
The decision to resume deportations and the process by which ICE went about alerting those who will be most directly impacted has once again shown poor judgment and outright carelessness by President George W. Bush and his administration.
Although we are hopeful that the Obama administration will pursue a more rational and just approach to our nation’s policies toward Haiti, the people who are being taken into harm’s way cannot afford to wait until Jan. 20.
Deportation flights must be stopped immediately, and Haitians must finally be granted TPS.
U.S. Rep. Alcee L. Hastings represents the 23rd District of Florida.