By Luis F. Perez | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Obama administration doesn’t pust to alter the deportation policy. Old request. New administration. Same answer.
Days after President Barack Obama’s inauguration, advocates wrote to him and the new head of the Department of Homeland Security, asking that they stop deporting undocumented Haitians and allow those already here to stay legally.
The answer arrived Tuesday: No, for now.
“At this time, DHS intends to continue to coordinate the removal of Haitian nationals to Haiti,” wrote Susan Cullen, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Policy and Planning.
While the first official response from the new administration disappointed immigrant advocates, they still hope Obama will alter course. They pledge to keep pushing him and his appointees.
To that end, members of the South Florida Congressional delegation plan to meet with DHS officials Tuesday to continue an “education process,” one aide said.
“We obviously have seen that this issue has not moved forward,” said Lale Mamaux, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar.
Hastings and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, have had recent talks with Obama and his top officials about the issue, aides said.
“They’re bright people. They’re fair people,” said Randy McGrorty, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities Legal Services in Miami. “I remain optimistic the policy will change once they understand the need for change.”
Said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigration Advocacy Center: “We were advised that the intent was not to deny our request. It’s still under consideration. But time is of the essence.”
In her letter, Cullen said since 2004 the U.S. has given $400 million to Haiti in assistance, including disaster relief. But she didn’t explain the decision to continue deportations.
Advocates and congressional leaders have been asking the government to grant Haitians protected status for years. Those calls increased after four tropical storms ravaged the island nation last summer.
In September, ICE halted deportations to Haiti, raising advocates’ expectations. But the agency resumed them in early December. Since then, many in the Haitian community have turned their attention to swaying Obama.
Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, which advocates for tighter immigration controls, said advocates should set benchmarks for when Haitians granted protected status would go back. In other cases, the designation has been extended for years.
“I think the Haitians are victims of the people who have abused TPS,” Beck said.
Staff Writer Georgia East contributed to this report.