Barack Obama becomes president, and Haitians with deportation orders are put on notice: You're outta here!
Louiness Petit-Frere, a 31-year-old baker with no family left in Haiti and whose mother and siblings have legal U.S. status – including a U.S. Marine brother who served two tours in Iraq – was put on a flight on Friday.
Vialine Jean Paul, 34, married to a U.S. citizen and with a 7-year-old American-born daughter being treated for a chronic viral infection, was notified that she needs to buy her plane ticket back to Haiti this week, having lost her appeal for asylum in 2001.
Her choice: Leave behind her little girl or take the sick child to a storm-ravaged country where polluted flood waters have left thousands at risk of malaria, hepatitis and cholera and 300,000 children facing malnutrition.
Immigration spokeswoman Nicole Navas points out that the agency is simply enforcing the law: "Individuals of all nationalities, who have had due process and who have been ordered deported, shouldn't be surprised if they receive notices advising of their need to comply with their orders of removal."
Advocates for Haitian immigrants say there has been an uptick since Obama's inauguration to deport Haitians without a criminal record, many of them married to U.S. citizens or who have American-born children. The numbers provided by immigration officials Monday (41 Haitians deported since December) do not show an uptick. Just business as usual.
It's no secret that the Bush administration played politics with the Haitian diaspora wracked by four deadly storms last summer.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff rejected a request by Haitian President Rene Preval to allow undocumented Haitians to stay here until their homeland recovers. He rejected granting temporary protected status, or TPS, so that Haitians can live and work legally here – just as tens of thousands of Central Americans legally do thanks to TPS.
Are bureaucrats moving swiftly before Haiti comes up on the policy radar of the new president and his Homeland Security chief, Janet Napolitano? "They lifted the halt of deportations in late December," noted Randolph McGrorty of Catholic Legal Services. "We heard about a handful of people who had been deported. Now there's this flurry of activity. . . . There are too many signs to deny it."
Marleine Bastien, who runs Haitian Women of Miami, says her office has been swamped with calls. "'It's not only the number but the type of people who they are deporting, people who qualify for relief – either for adjustment of status or because they are married to U.S. citizens," she said.
After the devastating storms, Obama noted that "the Haitian-American community is doing its part by supporting family and friends in Haiti in their time of need." That's precisely why TPS makes sense – for humanitarian reasons and U.S. national security. TPS would not open the floodgates. When the Clinton administration halted deportations to Haiti in the 1990s because of civil strife, there was no mass migration.
What TPS will do is help Haitians rebuild their country with remittances from relatives here who are at risk of being deported, as Cheryl Little of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center noted in a letter to Napolitano this week.
South Florida's congressional delegation should push the White House to act quickly. Bush left Obama a ticking time bomb by reinstating deportations – one that could explode any day now on our shores.