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Amy Bracken: Haitians in Limbo

The Obama administration is trying to figure out what to do with the 30,000 Haitians slated for removal from the United States. Plans to deport them are under review, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—and they should be, as Haiti is unprepared for an influx of arrivals. Already the poorest, least-developed country in the hemisphere, Haiti was pummeled by four devastating storms last August and September. Several hundred people died, a million more were made homeless, and $1 billion was drained from the already feeble economy. With only five months in office, the Obama administration already has plenty on its plate, so it’s no surprise the Haitian migration question is not yet resolved. It is worth pointing out, however, that the action the administration has taken thus far invites the worst possible outcome. Haitians are being deported back home at a rate of more than 100 per month, at a time when the U.S.-funded program charged with helping them resettle is on hold. The four-month hiatus that halted deportations immediately following last summer’s hurricanes and tropical storms ended late last year, and deportees began to arrive in Port-au-Prince on commercial flights in December. In the first four months of 2009, 91 undocumented immigrants arrived back on Haitian shores. In April, 175 persons—most of whom were convicted of non-violent crimes in the United States—were flown in on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) flights. More than 300 Haitians have already been returned so far this year and Washington has no plans to shelve the biweekly ICE flights. According to a study released by a Haitian human rights organization, most criminal deportees left Haiti before the age of eight and lived in the United States for 20 to 40 years. Many no longer have close relations in Haiti and do note speak Creole, the national language. Deportees often consider themselves to be more American than Haitian, and most were legal residents in the United States. Haitian criminals may deserve little sympathy, but their forced return can cause great problems for themselves, their families, and their communities. Criminal deportees (even after non-violent convictions) are stigmatized in Haiti and face huge hurdles in seeking employment and housing. Some wind up on the streets, some develop drug and alcohol problems, some return to lives of crime, and many, unable to find work, become burdens on their families still in the United States. This vicious cycled has not gone unnoticed by international bodies. The United Nations Development Program funded a pilot program within the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to help deportees resettle in Haiti in 2006. Later, the U.S. State Department assumed financial responsibility for the IOM program, under which new arrivals would be registered and offered counseling, education, and employment assistance. More than 1,000 people were served by the program; some now have their own businesses. But funding to help new arrivals was provided only through March 2009. One month later, ICE flights had resumed, and deportee support had dried up. IOM officials in Haiti say they are hoping for more funding to assist the hundreds of people they expect to arrive this year. As of now, however, there are no plans to redirect money back to the program, a State Department spokeswoman said. Meanwhile, there are some unlikely people doing what they can to help those without support: former criminal deportees themselves.

The Index - March 31, 2009

The arrest of a

Jocelyn McCalla: Obama & Haiti's Window of Opportunity

Barack Obama delivered a sober yet forceful speech at his inaugural as the forty-fourth president of the United States of America. The speech covered a lot of ground in a relatively short period of time. He balanced a reality check on the state of the union with an appeal to the American people that, with their help and support, the country would be better off in the years ahead, and that the obstacles that stand in their path to a better future today would be but history when their grandchildren looked back on the historical record.

Obama spoke mainly to the American people, but he had a few choice words for allies and foes abroad. What should Haitian leaders take away from his words? Two things: a warning and a promise. The warning: “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West—know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Since these words were preceded by others meant to convey to the Muslim world that the United States was not its enemy, some may very well say that such warnings were directed at terrorists and their international supporters rather than poor Haiti. Au contraire.

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