US Bishops: Now Isn't the Time to Deport Haitians

Call on Homeland Security to Be Humanitarian

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WASHINGTON, D.C., FEB. 8, 2011 ( Noting a report that a deportee died of cholera upon returning to Haiti, the U.S. bishops are urging the government to cease deportations to the island. 

«Now is not the time to resume deportations to Haiti, nor would it be morally or politically appropriate to do so in the foreseeable future,» prelates asserted in a letter Monday to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano. 

The letter is signed by Coadjutor Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration; and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, chairman of Catholic Relief Services. 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had expressed opposition to resuming Haiti deportations as soon as it was announced last December that the island’s year-long stay had been lifted. 

There were 27 deportations last month; it was one of those deportees who reportedly died of cholera. 

Compelling situations 

The bishops acknowledged the Department of Homeland Security citation of «public safety concerns» and its assertion that «those slated for deportation were offenders who had completed sentences for ‘serious criminal convictions.'» 

But Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Kicanas spoke of another reality: «[O]f the 27 already deported and another 300 who await deportation, there are a significant number with low-level, non-violent criminal convictions who had already been released and had been living in the community without incident for years. Others have compelling humanitarian situations, including serious medical conditions, or potential claims for immigration relief.» 

There are plans for 700 deportations by the end of the year, plans decried by the prelates because of more than 3,600 Haitian victims of cholera, with another 400,000 infected; the slow pace of reconstruction with hundreds of thousands of earthquake victims still living in tents; and dispute over last November’s presidential elections. 

«To compound these issues, Haiti’s jails, in which the Haitian government routinely holds deportees and which are notorious for the inhumane treatment of detainees, are now rife with cholera,» they noted. «[…] As you should know, one deportee, Wildrick Guerrier, reportedly has died of cholera contracted in a Haitian jail and another deportee is seriously ill. 

«To continue deportations in the face of such conditions would represent a knowing disregard for the life and dignity of the Haitians scheduled for deportation.» 

Bad signal 

Moreover, the prelates cautioned, deportations send a signal to the island that «the United States is retreating from its commitment to help Haiti return to health.» 

Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Kicanas recommended three steps for assisting Haiti: re-designating it with «Temporary Protected Status;» granting humanitarian parole for immediate family members of Haitians evacuated to the United States for medical purposes after the earthquake; and implementing a family reunification parole program that would benefit 55,000 Haitians with approved family petitions into the United States as they wait for their priority dates to become current. 

The bishops lauded Napolitano’s designation of Haiti as a nation with «Temporary Protected Status» after the earthquake struck in January 2010. 

«We urge you not to negate that positive action with a resumption of deportations at this time,» they wrote. «Instead, we ask that you cease all deportations to Haiti indefinitely and extend U.S. assistance to Haiti by providing further immigration relief to Haitians, particularly in light of the current public health and political crises plaguing the ailing nation.» 

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