Students from Miami Law's Human Rights and Immigration Clinics traveled recently to Washington D.C. as part of their ongoing advocacy for a halt to deportations from the United States to Haiti.
The deportations were resumed in January 2011 despite worsening post-earthquake conditions in Haiti and protests from the United Nations Independent Expert on Human Rights in Haiti and other UN bodies. Since then, and heedless of the outcry, the U.S. has deported approximately 500 people back to Haiti, where more than 500,000 residents displaced by the quake remain in tent camps and another half million have been sickened by cholera. At least 7,000 people have died in the epidemic, which is expected to surge in the coming rainy months.
At a formal working meeting before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Miami Law students updated its members on developments on a human rights case they have filed against the United States. Representatives of the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department attended the meeting.
Second-year students Kathleen Schulman and Erin Lewis drove home the fact that, upon arrival in Haiti, deportees are often held in life-threatening conditions. Even after their release, deportees suffer in the tent camps, lack access to medical care, and are targets for stigma and scapegoating. Schulman insisted that the United States' immigration policy "does not protect people with compelling humanitarian factors, including those with serious illnesses or strong family ties, from deportation," and gave examples of people who were deported despite compelling cases for relief.
Students also led meetings with the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and met with Congressional staffers about the deportations. "After all the hard work of the students, it was encouraging that both the UNHCR and congressional staffers were receptive to this issue," Lewis said. "The meetings provided great learning moments for how we can best frame this human rights problem."
Lewis and five other second-year students – Drew Aiken, Gueter Aurelien, Eric Baum, Morgan France-Ramirez and Tiffany Hawks – gave presentations during the UNHCR and Congressional staffer meetings.
In their advocacy, Miami Law's Human Rights and Immigration Clinics are collaborating with other organizations – Alternative Chance, Americans for Immigrant Justice (formerly the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center), the Center for Constitutional Rights, FANM Haitian Women of Miami, and the Loyola Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice. Karen Winston, from Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, as well as Professor Ericka Curran and students from Florida Coastal School of Law's Immigration Clinic contributed to the Miami Law students' written submission to the IACHR.