After making an impassioned plea to the federal government to halt deportations of Haitians in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, local leaders welcomed an announcement that the deportations will be put on hold — at least for now.
Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, was one of several leaders calling on the Obama administration and politicians to reverse course on the decision three weeks ago to start deportations again. A moratorium on deportations had been in place since the the 2010 earthquake.
“We believe that it is a step in the right direction even though we are disappointed that he is saying it’s a temporary stop of the deportations,” Bastien said.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the policy’s suspension Tuesday while speaking in Mexico City. Thousands of Haitians have been embarking on a 7,000-mile journey over land from Brazil to the Mexico at San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego, trying to gain entry into the United States.
“We will have to deal with that situation, address it, be sympathetic to the plight of the people of Haiti as a result of the hurricane,” Johnson said Tuesday. “But after that situation, after that condition has been addressed, we intend to resume the policy change that I brought about several weeks ago.”
On Wednesday, he reiterated that deportations had only been “suspended temporarily. Working with the government of Haiti, DHS intends to resume those flights as soon as possible. This should be clear: the policy change I announced on September 22 remains in effect, for now and in the future.”
From October 2015 to early September, officials processed more than 5,000 Haitians at the California entry point, a significant increase from about 300 people in fiscal year 2015. Only about 75 Haitians are being processed per day at the San Ysidro entry, Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told the Associated Press.
Bastien said the situation in Haiti is too dire for a temporary halting of the policy, with Hurricane Matthew ravaging the country and causing more than 300 deaths, with food shortages and cholera cases on the rise.
“When you look at the impact of the destruction in Haiti, it’s going to take Haiti at least 10 years to recover, and the administration knows it,” Bastien said.
Local activists think that the refugees that are being detained in the Imperial Regional Detention Facility just over the border in California should be released. They are also asking for additional Temporary Protected Status for Haitians impacted by the hurricane.
“Any deportations threaten the future of Haiti’s stability. The idea is to work with the administration to have them not enforce this policy,” said Gepsie Metellus, executive director of the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in Miami.
U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings of Miramar also sent a letter to President Barack Obama requesting Temporary Protected Status for Haitians affected by the storm.
Local activists plan to rally at the Miami U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office Friday at 3:30 p.m. Several groups are also accepting donations for Haiti relief including the city of North Miami, Miami fire rescue stations and community organizations like the Haitian Women of Miami and the South Florida Haiti Relief Group, organized by County Commissioner Jean Monestime and other local leaders.
Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.