On November 3, students in Miami Law's Immigration Clinic argued for halting deportations to post-earthquake Haiti during a formal working meeting called by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. State Department also attended the meeting. The students discussed the experiences of recent deportees to Haiti, who frequently lack access to healthcare, housing, and jobs and who are stigmatized in Haitian society. Since the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the United States has deported over 800 people to Haiti, the vast majority of whom are lawful permanent residents in the United States. Flights continue every month.
The students argued that deportations to Haiti, in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis in the western hemisphere, violate human rights and present life-threatening conditions for deportees. The students were joined during the working meeting by Marleine Bastien, Executive Director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM)/Haitian Women of Miami, and Dr. Arthur Fournier of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
The 2L clinic students Misato Sawada, Francesse Lucius, Alanna McCoy, and Stephanie Almirola worked long hours to interview deportees in Haiti about their experiences and prepare a written brief for the Commission. "We conducted numerous interviews with recent deportees who are in extremely difficult situations in Haiti," commented Francesse Lucius. "It was incredibly rewarding to see the Commission positively respond to our concerns."
During the working meeting, Alanna McCoy presented the clinic's findings and arguments. "It was an honor and a privilege to present this very important issue to the Commission," McCoy said. "After seeing how concerned the Commissioners are about the situation in Haiti, we are even more motivated to continue our advocacy to protect the human rights of Haitian deportees." Since the January 2010 earthquake, the Immigration Clinic and FANM, along with their partners – Miami Law's Human Rights Clinic, Alternative Chance, Americans for Immigrant Justice, Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law-Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice – have petitioned U.S. officials to halt deportations to Haiti.
Other voices in the international community have echoed their appeals. In a June 2012 report, the UN Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti, Michel Forst, urged a halt of all deportations to Haiti. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights's joint advisory report issued in 2011, urging all member states to suspend all forced returns to Haiti, remains in effect. Many of the deportees interviewed by the clinic students have serious medical or mental health conditions for which treatment is not available in Haiti. The current housing crisis in Haiti disproportionately affects deportees, forcing many of them to live in overcrowded and unsanitary tent camps. The students found that most deportees were legal permanent residents who had lived in the United States for decades and had close family ties. Some deportees were not even born in Haiti, but rather in the Bahamas, Cuba or elsewhere to Haitian parents and had moved to the United States at a very young age.
"Deportation equals a death sentence [for Haitians]," said Marleine Bastien, Executive Director of FAMN, during her testimony at the working meeting. Dr. Fournier agreed: "People ought not to die as a result of government decisions." Ms. Bastien and Dr. Fournier both focused on the lack of adequate medical and mental health care available in Haiti. Ms. Bastien also spoke about the impact of family separation on the community when deportees, who are often the main breadwinners of the family, are detained for months and then deported, leaving behind spouses and small children.
During the working meeting, the Commissioners complimented the students on the work that they had done in gathering information on the impact of deportations to Haiti. The Immigration Clinic and its partners plan to continue asking the U.S. government to stop the deportations and take further steps to protect the human rights of Haitian deportees.
For additional information on the Immigration Clinic and Human Rights Clinic's efforts to stop deportations to Haiti, see www.stophaitideportations.org. For more information on Project Medishare, please visit www.projectmedishare.org. For more information about FANM, please visit www.fanm.org.