Haitians Fear the “Death Sentence” of Deportation
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Under thick February clouds, Jerry Poulard, 29, strode across Worth Street, to the New York office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). After a sleepless night in his Rockland County, NY, home, he’d prepared his possessions, but simply couldn’t ready himself for ICE’s message to him: deportation to Haiti.
“If I’m going back I’m accepting a death sentence.” said Poulard, a US resident since age 14. “Where will I stay? I just ask they let us wait until the country is rebuilt.”
The US government sees Poulard as an ex-convict who needs to leave the country. In January, the US sent its first batch of 27 deportees to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, and Poulard now waits with hundreds of others to fly to a shattered Haiti.
Already, one deportee has died of untreated “cholera-like symptoms” on January 22. Now, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is urging US suspension of deportations for Haitians with illnesses or with US family members. But ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said deportations have not been suspended, and that ICE is moving ahead with plans to deport 700 Haitians in 2011.
Michelle Karshan, director of Alternative Chance, an organization that aids Haitian deportees, called the first deportee’s death “tragic” but “predicted.” She said that deportees arriving in Haiti wait in police station cells with no medical care until family members get them anytime from two weeks to five months later.
“In a cell like that, one person gets cholera and it spreads to the rest,” said Karshan, who runs a medical care system in Haiti’s prisons. More than 4,000 Haitians have died of cholera, and over 200,000 people have been infected. “All of Haiti is in crisis from A-Z.”
Gonzalez said that ICE is currently only deporting “criminal convicts and those who pose a serious threat,” and that they will “prioritize the more serious offenders while balancing the interest of the Haitian government in an orderly repatriation process.”
Karshan, however, argued that almost all of these “criminal convicts” with final orders live at home and pose no threats to their US communities.
“Why is there such urgency to deport them now?” she asked. “Deporting people is no way for the US to support Haiti’s reconstruction.”
To Regime Villard, 22, her cousin Poulard is anything but a threat -- “he’s like the father of our house.” After bragging about Poulard’s culinary creations -- beans and rice, Haitian patties, and “the best ginger tea ever” -- she moaned at the thought of his deportation.
“That’s the next worst thing to someone passing away,” she said. “We need him.”
Though Poulard, 29, spent 5 years in jail at age 19 for convicted robbery, Villard said he is now “responsible,” “spiritual,” and “a leader.” Poulard claims the incident was a run-in with the wrong crowd.
Out of jail in 2005, he began work at the local Stop ‘n’ Shop supermarket, a job he said “God decided” would help support his family.
In 2009, however, Canadian border patrol stopped him from attempting to visit a friend in Canada, because they saw his criminal record. Then American ICE picked him up and detained him for 16 months, and gave him his final deportation order in April 2010.
“I thought I was a free man -- I was off parole, even trying to get my citizenship,” said Poulard, whose father is a naturalized US citizen. “God will get me through -- life is suffering.”
Poulard’s past lawyer, Jude Nelson, said his client was “punished twice” -- first by the US prison system, then by immigration officials--for the same crime.