- 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.
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.
Before moving to Foreign Policy, Lynch reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. As the Washington Post's United Nations reporter, Lynch had been involved in the paper's diplomatic coverage of crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also played a key part in the Post's diplomatic reporting on the Iraq war, the International Criminal Court, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Lynch's enterprise reporting has explored the underside of international diplomacy. His investigations have uncovered a U.S. spying operation in Iraq, Dick Cheney's former company's financial links to Saddam Hussein, and documented numerous sexual misconduct and corruption scandals.
Lynch has appeared frequently on the Lehrer News Hour, MSNBC, NPR radio, and the BBC. He has also moderated public discussions on foreign policy, including interviews with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, and other senior diplomatic leaders.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Lynch received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. He previously worked for the Boston Globe.| Turtle Bay |