Monday, September 22, 2008

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stops deportation of Haitians (Palm Beach Post)

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stops deportation of Haitians

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2008

MIAMI — The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency says it has temporarily stopped deporting Haitians back to Haiti due to the devastation in that country caused by recent hurricanes and tropical storms.

Haiti, already the poorest country in the hemisphere, has been ravaged by four large storms in a matter of weeks, leaving over 400 people dead, tens of thousands homeless, and with the survivors facing food shortages after more than $180 million in crops were wiped out.

''There are no imminent deportations planned to Haiti,'' said Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the customs enforcement agency. ``We are monitoring the situation on the ground.''

That announcement is important for many families in South Florida, which is home to one of the largest concentrations of Haitians in the U.S.

But the government also has made it clear that the deportations could resume at any time.

The U.S. Agency for International Development currently has members of its Disaster Assistance Response Team in Haiti assessing the situation.

"What we've heard is good for the moment, that the removals have stopped," says Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami, which represents Haitians facing deportation for being in the U.S. without proper documentation. "But what we also hear is that the DART teams will report back to the (U.S.) government and then decisions will be made about beginning those removals again."

Little, who says even after the devastation caused by Hurricane Ike some people were still being deported back to Haiti, believes it would be a tragedy if the removals continue.

"Some people are starving there, the roads are rivers, thousands are in homeless shelters, there are no plans for children to go back to school yet," she said. "I would hope they would end deportations for at least a year."

Individuals from such countries as Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua have received Temporary Protected Status from immigration authorities after natural disasters in their countries and have been allowed to stay in the U.S. despite previous deportation orders.

Little also said that deporting Haitians at this moment creates double jeopardy because many Haitians in the U.S. send money back to their families in Haiti.

"If you deport someone you not only send that person back to complete devastation, but there is less money going to help Haiti recover," she said.

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