Students of Miami Law's Immigration and Human Rights Clinics traveled recently to Washington D.C. as part of their ongoing efforts to convince United States officials that deporting people to post-earthquake Haiti is dangerous and violates their human rights.
While in Washington, students took part in a meeting about the deportations at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and met with congressional staffers to discuss the subject. Once they are sent back to Haiti, men and women with criminal records are jailed in inhumane conditions. A 34-year-old man died in January a week after being deported and incarcerated.
During a Congressional briefing about the worsening situation in Haiti, Immigration Clinic student Gueter Aureilen, 2L, spoke eloquently about the injustice of the deportations and the impact on American families. Aureilen highlighted the injustice of treating Haitian-Americans such as herself as "perpetual guests in the United States" despite their strong ties to family and community and their earnest pursuit of the American Dream.
"Until two months ago, the idea of being a perpetual guest in America, in my own home, seemed preposterous," Aureilen said. "But when I met the families of Haitian deportees who are still living in the U.S., I discovered that this outrageous warning that I was guest in my own home was genuine and true."
The briefing was attended by various congressional staffers and by Representatives Yvette Clark and John Conyers. Students also met individually with staffers for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Representatives Yvette D. Clarke, Zoe Lofgren, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Frederica Wilson. Some of the students observed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testify before Congress about issues related to deportation and immigration detention.
The working meeting at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights came in response to the clinic's filing of human-rights petitions for Haitian nationals facing deportation. The IACHR granted 55 of the clinic's petitions and urged the United States in a so-called "precautionary measures" order to suspend deportations until Haiti's detention conditions and access to medical care comply with minimum human-rights standards.
The IACHR also insisted that the United States government implement procedures that guarantee the deportees' rights to life and family. After the Department of Homeland Security violated the commission's order by deporting 16 of the individuals granted precautionary measures, the commission granted the clinics' request to hold a working meeting with U.S. officials to discuss the deportations. Representatives of DHS and the State Department attended the meeting, at which the clinics and their community partners spoke out against removing Haitians and presented evidence that the deportations violate human rights.
"The clinics' trip to Washington D.C. was a fruitful and fascinating experience," said Drew Aiken, a 3L/LLM student in the Human Rights Clinic. "From our role in documenting the effects of deportations on families in the U.S. to writing the brief for the Inter-American Commission working meeting and attending the actual hearing, we were able to play a concrete role in international advocacy and get a real sense of what it means to be a human rights advocate."
In preparation for the D.C. trip, students worked long hours to prepare a lengthy brief on deportations to Haiti for the commission and a two-page fact sheet for use in speaking with Congressional staffers. The clinics argued that the conditions in Haiti make any deportations at this time a violation of human rights, and presented evidence that squalid conditions in Haitian jails and the cholera outbreak are only getting worse.
In their advocacy, Miami Law's Human Rights and Immigration Clinics are collaborating with their partners Alternative Chance, Americans for Immigrant Justice (formerly Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center), the Center for Constitutional Rights, FANM Haitian Women of Miami, and the Loyola Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice.