December 13, 2010, New York – The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) announced on December 9 that it has lifted the ban on deportations to Haiti for persons with criminal convictions. Deportations to Haiti have been stayed since shortly after the January 12, 2010 earthquake devastated the country. ICE announced it has also ended the policy of releasing detainees with orders of removal after 90 days, which could result in their indefinite, unreasonable and arbitrary detention. Haitian nationals with any criminal record are now likely subject to continued detention and removal. Last week, 89 Haitian nationals were arrested and detained with the intent to deport them.
ICE’s sudden decision to resume deportations to Haiti is unconscionable. As that agency is well aware, the situation in Haiti has not improved and may be even worse now than when the deportations were halted in the weeks after the devastating earthquake of January 2010.The people of Haiti are now in the middle of a worsening cholera outbreak that has spread to the very prisons where those deported may be detained. The practice in Haiti, even before the earthquake, has been to detain many deportees from the United States in holding centers in Haiti with, as U.S. immigration judges have often noted, deplorable, substandard conditions and lack of medical care.
The International Committee of the Red Cross in Haiti recently reported that the cholera epidemic is spreading through Haiti’s crowded prisons, and numerous prisoners have already died. Groups working on the ground in Haiti have also reported that untreated water is being given to prisoners, which could further hasten the spread of cholera.Sending Haitian nationals to be detained in facilities deemed deplorable before the earthquake where exposure to cholera could lead to death is a violation of the U.S. government’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Under U.S. law codifying CAT, the U.S. is not permitted to remove anyone when it can be shown that it is"more likely than not that he or she would be tortured if removed to the proposed country of removal." U.S. courts have previously held that removing people who are HIV-positive to Haiti where they would be detained in deplorable conditions and unable to obtain necessary medication could, in some circumstances, be a violation under U.S. laws implementing CAT.It is ironic that on the same day ICE announced this new policy, December 9, 2010, the U.S. State department issued a travel warning recommending against any non-essential travel to Haiti due to “continued high crime, the cholera outbreak, frequent disturbances in Port-au-Prince and in provincial cities, and limited police protection and access to medical care.”The Center for Constitutional Rights, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, and Alternative Chance call on ICE to halt roundups and detentions of Haitian nationals in the U.S. and continue the stay on deportations. Furthermore, we call on ICE to release more information about this new policy and, specifically, to explain what assessment was conducted of the circumstances in Haiti prior to the change in policy.