U.S. to resume routine Haitian deportations
The Obama administration is preparing to resume routine removals of undocumented Haitian immigrants more than six years after suspending deportations following the Caribbean nation’s devastating January 2010 earthquake.
The announcement Thursday from U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, will have an immediate effect on how Haitians are processed when they arrive without documents at the San Ysidro border and other U.S. ports of entry.
DHS officials speaking on background on Wednesday confirmed the new policy and said that it is effective as of today. Haitians who present themselves at the U.S. border can expect to be detained and processed under a provision of U.S. immigration law known as “expedited removal” that allows for their deportations without an appearance before an immigration judge—with exceptions made for those who express fear of returning to their home country.
“We will be treating inadmissible Haitians as we do nationals of other countries,” one said. Since 2014, U.S. deportation policy has placed priority on convicted felons, those with “significant or multiple misdemeanors” and those stopped without entry documents near the border or at ports of entry while trying to enter the United States.
The plans to resume deportations to Haiti come come as DHS reported on Wednesday that there could be several thousand more Haitians in Central America and Mexico making their way to the border in hopes of gaining entry to the United States.
Most Haitians arriving at the San Ysidro border in recent months have been released and given a notice to appear before an immigration judge—but that will no longer be the case, the DHS officials said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stopped deportations to Haiti following the country’s January 12, 2010 earthquake, which was centered in the capital of Port-au-Prince. Deportations resumed on a limited basis in April 2011, primarily of criminals or those considered a security threat. The new policy means that anyone with a final deportation order is now subject to deportation.
“We believe that resumption of regular removal operations is warranted at this time given the improved country conditions since the earthquake,” an official said. According to the official, the resumption is also “in response to the significant increase of Haitians we’ve seen attempting to enter the United States at the southwest border and in particular at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.”
The new deportation policy will not change the Temporary Protected Status conferred by the U.S. government following the 2010 earthquake that allows Haitians in the program to remain in the United States through July 22, 2017.
Those more recent arrivals who have crossed into California in recent months under the previous policy will remain on parole as their cases go through immigration courts. The difference under the new policy is that they now are subject to deportation to Haiti, whereas they previously could not be deported even if their legal cases did not prevail.
So far this fiscal year, more than 5,000 Haitians without a U.S. visa have been processed by CBP officers at the San Diego Field Office, primarily at San Ysidro, compared with 339 in the previous year.
Migrant assistance groups in Tijuana have become increasingly overwhelmed with the arrival of Haitians, a group rarely seen in the city until large numbers began arriving at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in late May. The great majority have traveled by land from Brazil, where they had gone to work after the earthquake, but faced growing hardship following the country’s economic downturn.
“The ebb and flow is that about every ten days there is a slowdown for two or three days, and then they start coming again,” said Father Pat Murphy, director of the Casa del Migrante, a Tijuana shelter.
The sudden and unexpected influx of Haitians also has created challenges in San Diego, where hundreds have received temporary shelter at the United Methodist Church, housed at the Christ Ministry Center in Normal Heights. Most have been preparing to make their way to Miami and New York City, where there have been large and established Haitian communities.
The church has shelter with a capacity for 24 people, but has been accommodating about 200 people a night since the Haitians began arriving in May, said Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, which has been helping the church as part of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium.
To relieve the pressure, the National Guard on Monday opened two facilities, but the space will be available only for about two weeks.
“I wouldn’t call it a crisis. If the community hadn’t stepped up, if the church hadn’t stepped up, we would be in a crisis,” Guerrero said. “But we do need help.”
For most of the arrivals, San Diego has been a way-station as they prepare to make their way to Miami and New York City, where there are large and established Haitian communities.
It was unclear how soon any deportations will occur, though one DHS official said there about 2,000 Haitians subject to deportation. “Haiti has not always issued travel documents as quickly as we would like,” he said. “We’re hopeful that they will live up to their national obligation and issue travel documents for people that...are the subject of a final removal order.”
Under the new DHS policy, those who express a fear of returning to Haiti would be screened by a U.S. asylum officer who will determine if their case moves forward to immigration court.
Rumors of the policy changes flew late Wednesday among members of the migrant advocacy community. “It’s very surprising and a bit confusing,” said Ginger Jacobs, an immigration attorney and chair of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium. “If this were to happen, it signals a pretty dramatic change in policy.”
Jacobs said those arriving up to now have been given an immigration document that allows them to stay in the country for up to three years under a humanitarian parole while their case goes through immigration court.
For those Haitians who have already entered the United States, “the U.S. does not intend to initiate enforcement operations targeting Haitians who are not enforcement priorities,” a DHS official said. “Enforcement will be focused on those who are encountered or apprehended near the border at ports of entry who are ineligible for humanitarian relief as well as those with criminal convictions.”
One who would be subject to the new policy is Terancius Ivra, a 51-year-old Port-au-Prince native to went to work in Brazil in 2012. But the economic downturn meant that his monthly earnings, about $400, were cut in half, and he could no longer afford rent, food and money for his family in Haiti. “It was impossible to make it,” he said.
Interviewed Tuesday night in Tijuana, he said he had been given an appointment to appear at the San Ysidro border on Oct. 5.
On Wednesday at the United Methodist Church, Stheker Regisma, 29, said he arrived in San Diego on Sept. 1 with his wife and two children, ages 10 months and 2 years.
He said in Portuguese through an interpreter that he left Haiti for Brazil in 2010. When the job market dried up, he and his family decided to take the four-month journey to the U.S., much of it by foot. They were robbed of food and cash along the way, he said.
They had intended to go all the way to Miami, but a friend who was supposed to pay for travel from San Diego told him recently that money has run out. Regisma said that, for now, he’s looking for construction work to get a place for his family to stay in San Diego.
When asked if he hopes to return to Haiti one day, he said, “It’s very difficult. There’s no way to feed my family right now in Haiti.”