US double standard continues in treatment of Haitians

At a January 31 State House Haiti remembrance event with Governor Deval Patrick, Representative Linda Dorcena Forry eloquently urged President Obama to instruct Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Napolitano to promptly “parole” into the U.S. at least 55,000 beneficiaries of DHS-approved immigrant visa petitions who senselessly must wait in Haiti up to11 more years before getting their green cards.

As we wrote in “Pressure needed to get equal treatment for Haitians” (BHR, January edition), DHS-approved Cuban beneficiaries may wait in the U.S. for their green cards, a double standard decried by the Miami Herald, Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times editorial boards, among others. The Boston Globe urges the Haitians’ prompt parole as the “most effective way” to show U.S. leadership, which President Obama promised two days after the quake, by insuring an increased flow of remittances.

Kudos to Representative Forry for speaking strongly on this. Governor Patrick, Mayor Menino, and Senators Kerry and Brown should be asked to urgently and forcefully urge the President to instruct Secretary Napolitano to let approved Haitians come here now, not stay needlessly at risk in Haiti.

The same DHS - which maintains this double standard recently started deporting a thankfully relatively very small number of Haitians who are deportable due to U.S. criminal convictions. The first group of 27 such “criminal” deportees (1 has no criminal conviction and a federal trial acquitted him in a terrorism case) deported January 20, included previously-healthy 34-year old Wildrick Guerrier, who died in Haiti January 29 from cholera-like symptoms, leaving a devastated fiancée in Florida.

Advocates had repeatedly warned Administration officials that unhygienic conditions in Haitian police station holding cells – no clean drinking water, etc -- risked making the deportations a possible death sentence from cholera, which seems to be what killed Guerrier.

Arriving in Haiti, Guerrier was one of 17 of the 27 criminal deportees held in an extremely overcrowded police station holding cell, where reportedly for at least two days he exhibited cholera’s symptoms: uncontrollable diarrhea and severe vomiting.
Because cholera can kill in two or three hours, World Health Organization and Haitian Ministry of Health protocol mandates immediate medical care when symptoms occur. But the protocol was violated and everyone in his overcrowded cell was exposed to Guerrier’s vomit and feces.  He was released only after his aunt, visiting from Florida, gained access and secured it, he’d been detained seven days and died two days later, on January 29.

U.S.-based Alternative Chance, the main group focusing on Haitian criminal deportee issues, was denied access to the deportees, raising serious questions on its own, and their cholera prevention and treatment flyer written specifically for the deportees in police detention was not passed on to the detainees as promised.

Another deportee held with Guerrier exhibited cholera-like symptoms, and those detained with him may get and spread cholera, if that’s what killed him, as they were all exposed to the same unhygienic conditions he was, and then to his feces and vomit.
 Nevertheless, on February 3 State Department Haiti Special Coordinator Ambassador Thomas Adams indicated criminal deportations will continue despite the death and said he didn’t know what killed Guerrier because his family supposedly had been uncooperative. (DHS says it hopes this year to deport about 700 persons who are deportable to Haiti due to U.S. criminal convictions.)

“One thing is sadly clear,” says Michelle Karshan, director of Alternative Chance program for criminal deportees in Haiti, ” When Mr. Guerrier was in police detention and visibly in medical distress, the police made a decision not to access medical care for him – despite a public hospital being in close proximity.”

“The U.S. is fully aware that the detention of arriving criminal deportees in Haiti is illegal under Haitian laws. It was pointed out in their own State Department report on Human Rights in Haiti for the year 2006.

The risks are grossly heightened with the Cholera epidemic, but since 2000, after the death of Claudette Etienne four days after her deportation to Haiti – the U.S. has full knowledge that the conditions of detention for criminal deportees are indeed life-threatening.”

DHS-approved beneficiaries shouldn’t have to wait up to 11 years longer in Haiti, where inevitably some won’t survive, when approved Cubans in a recently renewed DHS program are allowed to wait in the U.S. And DHS shouldn’t deport anyone else to the detention conditions which almost surely killed Guerrier.

Readers are urged to inform Governor Patrick, Mayor Menino, Senators Kerry and Brown and other elected officials of these harmful policies and to secure their help in getting the White House and DHS to end them.

Steven Forester coordinates immigration policy at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti [IJDH] and can be reached at and 786 877 6999).