Human Rights Groups Seek to Halt Deportations to Haiti

Civil and human rights advocates filed an emergency petition this week with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in an effort to halt the imminent deportation of hundreds of Haitian nationals by the U.S. government, calling the move a “death sentence.”

The petition was submitted by the University of Miami School of Law’s Human Rights and Immigration Clinics, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Alternative Chance, Loyola Law Clinic & Center for Social Justice. It argues that deporting people to Haiti — still reeling from the devastating January 2010 earthquake and facing a cholera epidemic as well as political unrest — would result in serious human rights violations including deprivations of the rights to life, family and due process, and freedom from cruel or unusual punishment.

“These deportations will compound a catastrophic public health and humanitarian crisis in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” said Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, director of the Human Rights Clinic at University of Miami School of Law. “It is simply unconscionable to resume deportations to Haiti on the one-year anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters in world history, especially as a cholera epidemic rages across the country.”

Since the earthquake last Jan. 12, deportations from the U.S. to Haiti have been stayed on humanitarian grounds. But in December, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it was lifting the ban on deportations for Haitians with criminal convictions. The deportations are scheduled to begin the middle of this month, when regular flights to and from Haiti are expected to resume. The decision to resume the deportations has sparked protests in Miami’s Haitian-American community.

About 100 Haitian nationals with final orders of removal were transferred last month from the Krome detention facility near Miami to three facilities in rural Louisiana where they are awaiting deportation. In all, about 350 Haitians are being held pending deportation.

A Dec. 16 letter from the Center for Constitutional Rights to President Obama noted that the cholera epidemic is spreading through Haiti’s crowded prisons, killing many people. There are also reports that Haitian prisoners are being given untreated water, which could hasten the spread of the deadly disease.

The human-rights petition — which is based on information gathered from interviews with Haitians detained in Louisiana — asks IACHR to order the U.S. to adopt precautionary measures to prevent irreparable harm to the Haitians targeted for deportation. The human rights groups want the U.S. to continue its stay on deportations, release the petitioners and grant “deferred action” status to those facing removal. The petition also asks that the U.S. government to release information about its decision to resume deportations.

“While the U.S. has often historically shirked its human rights obligations toward Haitian migrants, we hope our government will come to its senses and halt the planned deportations of the individuals whose stories are represented in this petition,” said Rebecca Sharpless, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law.

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