Ms. Esther Olavarria
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy
Department of Homeland Security
2001 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20528
February 23, 2009
Dear Deputy Assistant Secretary Esther Olavarria,
The Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network, a Haitian-led, Haitian capacity building organization, dedicated to protecting the civil, human, economic and cultural rights of Haitians living at home and broad, takes this moment to congratulation you, on being appointed, by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, to be the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy to shape the Obama Administration�s immigration policy.
Ms. Olavarria, as co-founder of the Florida Immigration Advocacy Center and a lawyer who started her career, over 20-years ago, at the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami at the height of the struggle for Haitian refugee rights, we know we do not need to underscore for you, in any great detail, the unfair treatment of Haitian refugees and asylum seekers in the US and the current Haitian desire for a stop to all deportations to Haiti, for work permits to be granted to Haitian nationals and to have all Haitians release d from the detention camps and the suspension of all legal and administrative proceedings. Justice demands that the US begins to treat Haitians as human beings deserving of equal protection under the laws and take into consideration the humanitarian crisis in Haiti and that the flow of Haitian remittances from the US to family and children in Haiti is providing critical life-sustaining support in these times where Haiti is pummeled by a global economic crisis, hurricane devastation, food shortages and famine.
You are well known and duly recognized, Ms. Olavarria, as a champion for immigrant rights and for your lifelong devotion and career spent representing the legal rights of immigrants and pursuing fair and equitable application of the US immigration laws as to all immigrants, without distinction. You are aware, Ms. Olavarria, of our plight as Haitians and the continuous unfair treatment, vis a vis others, similarly situated, who Haitians have watched be granted political asylum or TPS, while our people are continuously subject to incarceration, detention, deportations and interdictions at sea and repatriations without a fair hearing on credible claims for political asylum.
Now, is the time for this paradigm to change. And you Ms. Olavarria, are in a unique position to explain to the Obama Administration that fair and decisive action is urgently needed on this Haiti deportation matter. We ask that you help the Administration to do the right thing and assure more equal application of the immigration laws towa rds Haitians and, most immediately, that President Obama’s administration upholds humanitarian values and protect lives in Haiti by stopping all deportations to hurricane-ravaged, famine-stricken Haiti.
At HLLN we are dismayed that in the same week that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made it clear that immigration enforcement is among her top priorities that we saw a report where teams of “fugitive operations teams” may be launched to go after 30,000 Haitians ordered deported who have not complied. We are not advocating for a disregard of the immigration laws, but Haitians feel singled out here and this is especially frightful at a time when we are asking that the Obama administration, breaks from the past and designate the country of Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for a period of 18 months with specifications to stop all deportations to Haiti.
In 2008, hurricanes and storms devastated Haiti, and presidential candidate Barack Obama stated: �I also urge the United States to work in partnership with President Rene Preval and the new Haitian government � to immediately assemble a task force on reconstruction and recovery to begin work as soon as the storms pass�Together, we can help Haiti recover from this terrible series of storms and renew efforts to bring hope and opportunity to the people of Haiti.�
Today, deportations to storm-ravage Haiti continue. When the US deports an income earner to storm-ravaged Haiti, this decreases remittances and further imp overishes family members. Diaspora remittances are the most effective and direct aid to the Haitian poor in Haiti.
In 2002 TPS was renewed for Nicaraguan and Honduran immigrants because of continuing difficulties caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. At this point, Haiti is in much worse shape than Central Americans were at the time. Haitians in the United States should receive equal treatment and protection. Haiti qualifies for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and should be granted this disaster relief.
Four tropical storms and hurricanes battered Haiti during last year’s harvest season, killing almost 1,000 people nationwide, decimating Haiti’s agriculture and causing $1 billion in damage to irrigation, bridges and roads. Mudslides still cover entire towns. Houses are flooded. Schools have collapsed on children and people are starving. It’s inhumane to deport Haitian back to Haiti under these devastating conditions, where they will find no home, no employment, no food, no personal safety and security.
TPS was established to provide protection to people who are temporarily unable to return to their homelands. Please, Ms. Olavarria, help the people in Haiti by permitting their friends and relatives in the United States to remain here and to continue to send support to a nation in severe crisis. Please affirm the United States tradition of caring for and protecting persons in vulnerable situations by granting TPS and/or stopping all deportations through Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) or any equivalent administrative or executive ruling, with a specification to stop ALL deportations and provide work permits to Haitian nationals.
Marguerite Laurent, Esq.