- By Andrew SwiftAndrew Swift is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
It’s well known that America’s immigration system has its problems. But the travails of 30 survivors of January’s earthquake in Haiti may take the cake for complete ineptitude and inhumane treatment.
In the wake of the complete devastation of the country, the humanitarian crisis contributed to a totally chaotic environment. A group of survivors, many of whom had lost loved ones in the quake, and some of whom had been pulled from the rubble themselves, boarded a plane to Florida after given permission by U.S. marines. Aftershock quakes were feared, and the evacuation process from Port-au-Prince airport was less than orderly: obviously, the priority was on saving as many lives as possible. It’s no surprise that normal visa procedures weren’t followed precisely.
Upon landing, the thirty Haitians (none of whom, according to theNew York Times, have criminal histories) were taken into custody and held for deportation — despite the fact that all deportations to Haiti were suspended in the wake of the tragedy. Two months later, they’re still in jail.
The story’s already a massive fail, yet it gets even worse. Some of the refugees have U.S. citizen family members, who have pleaded with the government to allow the detainees to stay with them. Yet the Haitians still remain in jail. They’ve received no mental health care — I wonder, could these people be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after their entire country was wrecked by a massive earthquake, killing hundreds of thousands? — despite offers of free treatment from local clinics. Certainly, the following doesn’t make it sound that they’re mentally scarred at all:
The youngest detainee, Eventz Jean-Baptiste, 18, has no parents. “He is now responsible for his two younger brothers, who are homeless and living in a tent city in Port-au-Prince,” Charu Newhouse al-Sahli, the statewide director of the advocacy center, wrote in urging his release to his aunt and uncle in Coral Springs, Fla.
Mr. Jean-Baptiste describes putting his little brother and a cousin’s baby on top of a collapsed concrete wall during the quake, as they all prayed and cried. Afterward, “we had nothing to eat or drink,” he said. “I thought if I stayed in Haiti any longer I would not survive, and my family would not survive, so I decided to try to board a plane.” No one asked him for papers until he reached Orlando, he said.
Brian P. Hale, a spokesman for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, gave the Times this wonderfully caring quote:
In order to mitigate the probability that Haitians may attempt to make a potentially deadly journey to the U.S., we clearly articulated that those who traveled to the U.S. illegally after Jan. 12 may be arrested, detained and placed in removal proceedings.
This shouldn’t be a hard fix.