The Miami Herald
Fri, Nov. 05, 2004

No halt on deporting Haitians

The Department of Homeland Security opted not to grant thousands of undocumented Haitians a wholesale reprieve from deportation.


The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is recommending against a request by Haiti's interim prime minister and immigration advocates to spare thousands of undocumented Haitians from deportation while their country recovers from devastating floods.

Instead of granting Temporary Protected Status, immigration officials have decided not to repatriate -- for now -- undocumented Haitians in custody, who have not been convicted of aggravated felonies and who come from areas affected by Tropical Storm Jeanne.

The September floodwaters in Haiti's northwest region killed at least 1,900 people and left more than 200,000 others homeless.

''At this time, the Department of Homeland Security does not believe it is appropriate to recommend TPS for Haitian nationals residing in the United States,'' said Dan Kane, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Kane said decisions on the temporary reprieve from deportation for Haitian detainees from the flood region will be made case-by-case. It remained unclear Thursday how many Haitians could benefit from the decision.

Local immigration advocates and South Florida elected officials have long been advocating for TPS for an estimated 20,000 Haitians who they believe are living here illegally. TPS would entitle them to temporary emergency residence and work permits for up to 18 months.


Last month, Haiti's interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, who will be in South Florida today to meet with Gov. Jeb Bush and his Haiti Task Force, officially asked the Bush administration for TPS. The request also had the support of U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, both Miami-Republicans.

A Bush administration official in Washington familiar with the discussions that led to the TPS rejection said officials concluded that only a limited portion of Haiti was affected by Jeanne, not the entire country.

The official said that TPS was granted to Hondurans and Nicaraguans six years ago because those countries were more widely affected by Hurricane Mitch.

Haitian community leaders and others had a mixed reaction to Thursday's announcement on TPS and suspension of deportations.

''It's the continuation of the discriminatory treatment against Haitians that have been implemented over the years and we are asking the Department of Homeland Security to review its decision and do the right thing,'' said Marleine Bastien, a leading South Florida Haitian advocate who called the decision ``outrageous.''

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham said the decision stopped short of meeting the Haitian community's needs.

''It's unfortunate that this decision has been made,'' said Meek, a Miami Democrat. ``Hopefully some lives will be saved on a case-by-case basis.''

Graham said he is worried that ``people who should be eligible for this stay of deportation will face an impossible burden to prove where they came from, especially if they arrived years ago without documents or possessions.''

And that is why immigration attorneys from Catholic Charities Legal Services will demand a stay of deportation for every Haitian detainee currently in custody, said Randy McGrorty, the executive director.

''Everywhere in Haiti has been impacted by the storm,'' said McGrorty. ``There is a little bit of good news. This is something we have not been able to get. They were deporting people and this is going to save some lives.''


Still, McGrorty said the decision on TPS is disappointing. He learned about it earlier in the day when he received a copy of an Oct. 29 letter from the White house to Catholic Archbishop John Favalora of Miami.

The letter, written on behalf of President Bush, stated ``the decision has been made to suspend the deportation of non-criminal Haitians living in the United States who would be returning to areas of Haiti impacted by the storm.''

''Despite the many challenges the interim government of Haiti has faced since the resignation of former President [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide, progress is being made,'' the letter said.