U.S. To Deport Haitians With Criminal Records

After last year's earthquake, the Obama administration suspended the deportations of Haitians. But as early as next week, the government plans to resume deporting Haitians with criminal records back to their home country.

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After last year's earthquake, the Obama administration suspended the deportations of Haitians. But as early as next week, the government plans to resume deporting Haitians with criminal records back to their home country.

NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: The Department of Homeland Security says some 300 Haitians, now in custody in Louisiana, soon will be deported. DHS says deportation is preferable to releasing large numbers of people with criminal convictions back into the community.

One of those set for deportation is Harry Mocombe. Until 2009, he lived on this quite residential street in North Miami.

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ALLEN: This is his partner. She's 27, but prefers her name not be used. Although she and Mocombe are both legal residents, she worries that publicity about his pending deportation could affect her job.

Unidentified Woman: We had a good relationship. And we had a baby together.

ALLEN: Things changed in May of 2009. That's when Mocombe was arrested and later convicted on a theft charge. Since then, he's been in government custody.

Woman: And then, they put an immigration hold on him. And then he told me like he was going to be here, don't worry, they're not going to send him back to Haiti. So...

ALLEN: So it's very difficult then its sounds like?

Woman: Yeah, it's very hard.

ALLEN: Haitians and advocacy groups have asked the government to halt the planned deportations and they've gone a step further - to the Organization of American States. Mocombe is one of five Haitians who have filed a petition with the OAS, asking the group to call on the U.S. to halt the deportations. In Mocombe's case, his partner says, the deportation is causing hardship not just for the couple, but also their 6 year old son. He has a rare degenerative disease and requires constant care.

Haitian-Americans and their advocates say this is not the time to be deporting Haitians - even those with criminal records-back to their homeland. Cheryl Little is the executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami.

CHERYL LITTLE: They'll likely be jailed upon return. Conditions in the jails are beyond horrific. There have been cholera outbreaks in jails lately. We believe in many cases, this could amount to a death sentence.

ALLEN: News of the impending deportations comes as Haitians in the U.S. are facing another important date - the deadline for applying for temporary protected status. Marleine Bastien, head of a community group, Haitian Women of Miami, says the deportations have spread fear and distrust throughout the community, discouraging many Haitians from applying.

MARLEINE BASTIEN: This new measure reinforces people's belief that the government is out to get them, that they want to close the doors in the face of Haitians by any means necessary no matter how horrible the conditions are in the motherland.

ALLEN: Haitian advocacy groups say with just days left until the deadline, they believe nearly half of those eligible for TPS may not yet have applied. In recent weeks, Haitian advocacy groups and others concerned about the slow pace of recovery on the island have focused on a third immigration issue. In Haiti, there are some 55,000 people with family members in the U.S. and who have approved visas, but are on a waiting list preventing them from coming here. Cheryl Little is one of many calling on the Obama administration to expedite the Haitian family reunifications.

LITTLE: They've done everything our government's required of them to come here legally and be reunited with loved ones who are lawful permanent residents and citizens. And yet, we're making them wait for seven, ten years? I mean it's absolutely ridiculous.

ALLEN: Three years ago, advocates point out, the Department of Homeland Security expedited family reunifications for Cubans - citing among other things, urgent humanitarian reasons. A year ago, after the earthquake, when the Obama administration announced it was granting temporary protected status to Haitians, activist Marleine Bastien says she was happy that U.S. policies toward her people appeared to be changing. But recent events have brought her back to earth.

BASTIEN: Well, unfortunately for Haiti, sadly enough, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

ALLEN: As early as next week, Harry Mocombe and other Haitians in U.S. custody may be observing the one year anniversary of the earthquake by being forcibly returned home by the U.S. government.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

MONTAGNE: And for more on our recent coverage of Haiti, you can go to our website, npr.org. There you'll find a photo essay by NPR photographer David Gilkey. You can see pictures taken just after the earthquake and what those places look like today.

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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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