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Human rights commission urges U.S. government to stop deportations to Haiti

Today, in response to an emergency petition filed on January 6, 2011 by six rights groups, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) took a rare step and urged the U.S. government to cease deportations to Haiti immediately for persons with serious illnesses or U.S. family ties. The action follows the first reported death of  Wildrick Guerrier, deported by the U.S. since removals resumed on January 20, 2011.

In its decision, the IACHR expressed concern that “detention centers in Haiti are overcrowded, and the lack of drinking water and adequate sanitation or toilets could facilitate the transmission of cholera, tuberculosis, and other diseases. The deceased, Wildrick Guerrier, 34, who was deported in the last two weeks, exhibited cholera-like symptoms but is believed to have received no medical treatment while in a Haitian police station cell in the midst of a cholera epidemic. A second deported person was reportedly exhibiting cholera-like symptoms and released without medical attention. The IACHR also expressed their apprehension over the deportation of people with immediate family members, even children, in the United States, and of those who did not have any family members in Haiti.

Michelle Karshan, Executive Director of Alternative Chance, a re-entry program for criminal deportees in Haiti, responded:

The IACHR has rightly and courageously come through on the side of life, family and human rights. By resuming the suspension of deportations to Haiti for now, the U.S. can truly demonstrate its commitment to aiding Haiti through this difficult period towards real reconstruction.

Sunita Patel, a Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights had a strong message for the Obama administration-

We implore the U.S. Government to follow the IACHR’s instructions…Stop the deportations to stop the deaths. The Obama administration should live up to its promise to abide by human rights obligations and protect the right to life of Haitians in the United States.

The emergency petition, submitted by the University of Miami School of Law Human Rights and Immigration Clinics, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Alternative Chance and the Loyola Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice, argued that deporting people at this moment to Haiti, which is still reeling from the devastating January 2010 earthquake and burdened with a massive cholera epidemic, political unrest and street violence, will result in serious human rights violations, including deprivations of the rights to life, family and due process, and freedom from cruel or unusual punishment.

Deportations from the U.S. to Haiti had been halted on humanitarian grounds since the January 12, 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti. Advocates and community members were shocked when, on December 9, 2010, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unexpectedly announced that it was lifting the ban on deportations to Haiti for individuals with criminal records and would resume deportations in January 2011, just one year after the earthquake. On January 20, 2011, the U.S. resumed deportations to Haiti, deporting an estimated 27 people of Haitian origin, several of whom had not set foot in Haiti since they were young children.

Tell Secretary Napolitano and the Obama Administration that now is not the time to deport Haitians to Haiti. Take action now and urge the Obama administration to take into account the circumstances in Haiti and ensure due process and human rights for all.

Photo courtest of miamiherald.com

Nationwide vigils tell immigration agencies that they are “completely out of control”

Between the discovery of Haitian earthquake survivors in immigration detention (later released), an agency memo showing support for larger amounts of immigrant deportations, and the agency’s own admission of mismanagement, an embarrassed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) needs to be held accountable for its actions.

While civil rights groups have continued to be critical of ICE over the past year, the first protests against their recent misadventures has been spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Starting yesterday, the SEIU mobilized their members to participate in vigils outside ICE offices across the country to call on the agency to bring itself back to the enforcement goals it had set at the beginning of the Obama administration last year, goals that it seems to have lost sight of.

One of the country’s largest labor unions, the SEIU held prayer vigils outside USCIS offices in Oakland and Sacramento yesterday and outside ICE headquarters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Boston and Minneapolis today. Speaking on behalf of thousands of workers and human rights advocates across the country, Executive Vice-President of SEIU, Eliseo Medina said-

When DHS first announced its enforcement goals – including its increased focus on worksite I9 audits – SEIU was optimistic that the Obama Administration would clean up past wrongdoings…Instead, the agency has added flames to the fire by replacing worksite raids with electronic raids. Field officers are acting like cowboys, more interested in adding scalps to their belts than targeting criminals and abusive employers, which would actually help solve our immigration problems. As a result, communities lose, businesses lose, families lose, America loses.

President Obama has expressed his commitment to the need for immigration reform saying that tearing apart families, terrorizing communities through raids, and denying due process to those detained, were all indications of a broken immigration system that needed to be fixed. With the expansion of an unsuccessful 287(g) program and an increase in deportations in the past year, it is clear the the system is failing. SEIU activists are demanding-

Rather than wasting limited funds to chase hard-working, tax-paying cleaners, home-care providers and nannies, the activists will call on President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano to re-focus ICE enforcement on its original goals of targeting crooked employers and criminals.

The human repercussions of political decisions made behind closed doors cannot be under estimated. If the promises that the administration made are not upheld, retaliatory actions will continue to take place across the nation.

Watch the latest video from America’s Voice, telling us how the current state of immigration is “More Rouge Than Right”-

Photo courtesy of thenation.com

POLL: Will these rallies have an impact on ICE policies?

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Haitian earthquake survivors amongst those in immigration detention centers

Where have all the promises gone?

The Obama administration has delivered many promises, not least of which is to deliver desperately needed reforms to an unwieldy and unjust immigration detention system.

So why is it that the New York Times reported today that 30 survivors of the devastating Haiti earthquake were rushed out of Haiti during aftershocks at the airport, only to be thrown into immigration detention centers on U.S. soil in far flung areas, confined while dealing with the traumas of what they had encountered back home. Many have relatives in the U.S. who are desperate to take them in. They are neither flight risks, nor a danger to the community. Yet, they continue to remain detained. Like Jackson,

who was trapped in the collapse of his family’s apartment building in the quake… His formal request for release, dated March 12, describes how even the sound of someone on the jail stairs makes him fear another earthquake and worry that because he is locked up, he will be unable to escape.

The detainees have received little or no mental treatment for their trauma. This is not surprising, given a new report from a public interest law center Texas Appleseed that documents the shocking treatment and lack of due process meted out to immigrants with mental disabilities. The case studies are astounding. Take for example a 50-year-old legal permanent resident who had lived in the United States since 1974. Declared incompetent by a New York criminal court, he was ordered to serve 90 days in a mental institution, but before anyone could blink, he was transferred far away to a detention center in Texas for deportation without his family’s knowledge. Even though he was suffering from severe schizophrenia, he went without his medication for a month, as detention centers are notorious for medical mistreatment, and this extends even further to mental illness. As his sister said

If they deport him, it will be the end of his life and the end of my mother’s life. My mother says he will die out there in the streets.

The example illustrates the continuing emphasis on enforcement only approach. Even though many immigrants are neither flight risks, they are mandatorily detained in far flung locations. Even though detention is a civil sanction, people in the system are treated as criminals, required to wear prison uniforms, housed in cells and monitored constantly. More than 33,000 immigrants are held daily in a network of privately contracted facilities and state and local jails. Imagine the state of someone with a mental illness in an increasingly overwhelmed system. Moreover, 84% of detainees have no legal counsel – so in an overburdened court system, mentally ill detainees are often left defending themselves.

The report documents what health professionals in the facility have to say. Like one Detention Facility Nurse who stated, rather matter of factly, that “When they are crazy and cannot be managed they go to ‘seg’ [segregation] when there is not room in the short stay unit.”Detainees are often given the wrong drugs, or accused of faking their illness. The worst is when they are let free, often suddenly in the middle of nowhere where the detention facility is located, without any resources. Like the tragic story of a delusional Mexican national suffering from schizophrenia whose father had arranged with immigration for his son’s voluntary departure by plane to Mexico, where he was to be picked up by his mother. But when he called the deportation officer to confirm the travel arrangements, he was told that his son had been deported four days earlier than originally planned, due to the vacation plans of his deportation officer. He still remains missing two years later, though the body of a young man who fits his son’s description remains in a morgue in Tijuana.

Day by day, violations in detention continue, even as a leaked memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has revealed the need to meet larger quotas of immigrants for deportation, contrary to the official stand by the administration that they are mainly targeting immigrants who have criminal convictions. According to the ACLU,

The ACLU and select immigration groups met Monday with ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton and his senior staff to discuss the reported quota policy and Detention and Removal Office (DRO) priorities. At the meeting, James M. Chaparro, the DRO director who wrote the memo, which was apparently not cleared by the Assistant Secretary, apologized for his “tremendous error”… Assistant Secretary Morton denied the use of quotas, stated his commitment to work together in a “spirit of candor and transparency” and asked to be “judged on the record, not on rumors.”

But many are not believing the “bad apple” story. Key immigrant and Latino organizations have called on President Obama and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to dismiss John Morton. “The reality is that ICE has gone rogue and needs to be reined in with dramatic action,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change.

Growing frustration is leading to more broken families and destroyed futures. No more promises we say again. It’s time for concrete action.

UPDATE: From the New York Times – More than three dozen Haitian earthquake survivors were released from Florida immigration jails on Thursday after more than two months in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration officials said 40 Haitian survivors would be released on orders of supervision by nightfall. This came on the day that The New York Times reported that at least 30 earthquake survivors were being detained. Lawyers said the federal government was now reversing a practice adopted after the earthquake, to hold Haitians for at least 90 days after a deportation order before considering them for supervised release. Those released can be returned to Haiti when deportations resume.

Photo courtesy of globevision

Take action to protect Haitians in the U.S. who have no place to safely return

-1On January 12th, 2010, the already impoverished Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, was hit by an earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale. Frighteningly, that is all that is quantifiable about the disaster at the moment, with thousands trapped under rubble and the scale of destruction to lives and infrastructure yet unknown.

So how much more devastation does the nation of Haiti need to go through before the U.S. administration is convinced that the country is not equipped to cope with the thousands of Haitians who are currently facing deportation back to Haiti?

Between August and September of 2008 Haiti was hit with four tropical cyclones (Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike) which killed 800 people, displaced many thousands, and destroyed the economy of the country. Directly following those disasters the Bush administration faced pressure to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians living in the U.S., a temporary amnesty, given in 18-month increments to immigrants stranded in the U.S.

The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately…Ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war); An environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane); Other extraordinary and temporary conditions.

But not only did the Bush administration fail to include Haiti within the nations whose citizens are granted TPS (namely Sudan, Somalia, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua), but soon after the Obama administration called for the deportation of 30,000 Haitians that President Bush had ordered. Unable to copy with the influx of so many deportees, the Haitian government ceased issuing travel documents for them, resulting in hundreds of deportees being held in detention centers even after they were flown back to Haiti.

At the time in March 2009, many  expressed outrage at the administration’s treatment of Haitian immigrants and demanded TPS for Haitians in the U.S. based on the horrific “conditions on the ground” in Haiti,

Gonaives, Haiti’s third largest city, is uninhabitable; most of the nation’s livestock, food crops, farm tools and seeds destroyed; irrigation systems demolished; collapsed buildings throughout the country; 800,000 people left homeless and more than 800 dead. USAID estimates that 2.3 million Haitians now face “food insecurity,” reeling from prices 40 percent higher than in January.

One year and another natural disaster later, the pressure to grant TPS to undocumented Haitians in the U.S. has reached its peak. On Wednesday, three Republican Member of Congress, Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wrote a joint letter to President Obama calling for immediate granting of TPS to Haitian nationals. Democrat Alcee Hastings added his name to the appeal, stating it was “not only immoral, but irresponsible” to not allow Haitians to remain in the U.S. Additionally, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand addressed a letter to the President saying,

Now is certainly not the time to deport Haitians into an overly burdened country…Haiti clearly meets the criteria for TPS designation and extending it would be one way to help address this catastrophe, as well as alleviate additional burdens on American assistance workers.

Yesterday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano temporarily halted deportations to Haiti, and today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated they may be moving towards TPS for Haitians. As it stands, those Haitians already in detention, such as Haitian activist Jean Montrevil, will continue to remain detained.

In their appeal to Obama, a number of immigrant advocacy organizations such as National Immigration Forum expressed their relief at the U.S. government’s support for Haiti but asked for more long term revisions of the immigration policy,

We find some consolation that the Administration is acting quickly to mobilize relief efforts to Haiti. We support the latest Immigration and Customs Enforcement announcement that it is halting all deportations of Haitian immigrants for the time being, in light of the devastation caused by yesterday’s earthquake…These are the right immediate initial responses. But as part of its long term relief effort, the Administration must grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitian immigrants who are now in the U.S.

Granting Haitian nationals TPS would release those in detention centers, unite them with their families, allow them to live and work legally in the U.S., and contribute to the economy in the U.S. and recovery of Haiti. It would also help undocumented Haitians across the U.S. Overall it would impact 125,000 Haitians.

When President Obama said, “You will have a friend and partner in the people of the United States today, and going forward,” we certainly hope that support extends itself to aiding those Haitians who are here.

We urge you to sign a petition, sign a letter to Obama and join a facebook group in support of TPS. And if you are looking for a reliable way to contribute to the earthquake, donate here.