Church World Service (CWS) denounces the Obama Administration’s recent announcement that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will deport Haitians seeking safety in the United States. As a 70-year old humanitarian organization representing 37 Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox communions and 33 refugee resettlement offices across the country, CWS urges the Administration to affirm the need for robust protections for these vulnerable individuals. DHS’s announcement runs counter to the welcome that faith groups and community members have greeted Haitians with in California, Florida and beyond. Not only is the Obama Administration breaking its promise to allow Haitians to remain in the United States as their country recovers from the devastating earthquake, but this announcement contradicts the very words President Obama delivered just this past Tuesday at his world leaders summit regarding refugee protection.
Haiti faced a natural disaster of catastrophic proportions in 2010 when a massive earthquake decimated the country. Immediately, Americans responded to this humanitarian disaster with compassion and support for the Haitian people. One in every two American homes donated resources to Haiti, the largest humanitarian response by the American public in our history. The U.S. government also recognized that the needs of displaced Haitians would be extraordinary, granting Haitians “humanitarian parole” in the United States and extending assistance to Haitians who made the arduous trek to the United States to seek safety and be reunited with family and loved ones. The effects of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake are still being felt today, and country conditions have not improved in meaningful ways, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable. In addition, Haiti is facing the world’s largest cholera epidemic, and more than 60% of Haitians live under the national poverty line.
In his announcement, DHS Secretary Johnson wrongly claimed that the situation in Haiti has improved enough to permit the U.S. government to detain and deport Haitians back to their country of origin. However, reports on the ground – including from the U.S. State Department – show that the political, social, and economic situation is still untenable. There are 60,000 Haitians who remain internally displaced, living in tents and camps since the 2010 earthquake. The U.S. State Department continually reports grave concerns about the country’s lack of infrastructure and political instability, particularly in the lead up to Haiti’s presidential elections. In September 2016, the U.S. government reported that Haiti will not be politically stable until the new Haitian president is in power, which will occur at the earliest in February 2017. The U.S. Embassy in Haiti has issued several advisories about the level of civil unrest and high levels of violent crime. Haitians who returned to Haiti are extremely vulnerable to violence and are being targeted for kidnapping for ransom.
With this reversal of policy, the U.S. government is turning its back on the very Haitians it committed to support as their country rebuilds. Haitians are fleeing turmoil in their home country, as well as from the countries to where they initially fled in 2010. The U.S. government should be responding to Haitians entering the United States with a humanitarian response, not an enforcement response. Many Haitians have already entered the United States through humanitarian parole and family reunification policies, but these channels are not always accessible to people who are desperately seeking safety. Individuals must have meaningful opportunities to apply for asylum, humanitarian parole, and other protections and visas. ICE’s policy reversal will separate families, as arriving Haitians will be deported or detained – perhaps indefinitely – and unable to be reunited with their family members in the United States.
California Governor Jerry Brown responded to this crisis with humanitarian assistance and shelter for Haitians. The shelter allows Haitians to make their transition quickly and San Diego volunteers and service providers to centralize their assistance and ensure Haitians’ first experience is one of compassion and understanding. In contrast, the federal government’s harsh enforcement response is not only shameful, but also ineffective. The irony is that, just this week, President Obama hosted world leaders in an effort to increase protections for vulnerable populations. DHS’s shift in policy to place Haitians into expedited removal and thereby deport and indefinitely detain them, is a flagrant disregard for our country’s values and flies in the face of commitments made at those summits. If the United States sets this low bar for protecting vulnerable individuals, other countries are certain to follow suit. The concept of “deterrence policies” have already failed worldwide, and have led to human tragedies, including in the U.S. border region. The push factors forcing Haitians out of their country of origin have not subsided, and thus no amount of cruelty and callousness on behalf of the United States will stop Haitians from seeking safety and family reunification in the United States.
How we treat disaster survivors reflects the values that define us as Americans. Haitians have suffered tremendous trauma along their journeys, many having been beaten, robbed, raped, and violated. Haitians are a traumatized, displaced population in need of humanitarian assistance and trauma services, not detention facilities. By providing Haitians services that meet their basic needs, we can see lives changed, families reunited, and our best values at work. As a country, we must honor the compassion, support, and commitment this country made to Haitians in 2010. CWS urges the Administration to reverse this recent announcement and to continue to allow Haitians to seek safety here in the United States. We must live up to our American values by welcoming Haitians and treating them the way we would like to be treated if we were in their place.