Wildrick Guerrier had been living in the U.S. for years, along with his mother, fiance, two younger brothers and 9-year-old son, all of whom were citizens or lawful permanent residents.
But Guerrier had a criminal record. He was an LPR but had not yet become a U.S. citizen.
So in 2011, he was deported to a Haitian jail.
“Upon deportation, Haitian officials detained Wildrick and over 20 other men in a filthy police cell, where they were exposed to feces, blood, and vomit,” according to a report released earlier this week about the conditions Haitians face when they are deported.
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And about a week later, on Jan. 30, 2011, he died at 34 from cholera-like symptoms.
Human rights groups held a news conference Thursday to discuss the report, Aftershocks: The Human Impact of U.S. Deportations to Post-Earthquake Haiti, which documents the experiences people with criminal records have after being deported to post-earthquake Haiti. The report also makes recommendations to the U.S., Haiti and international communities.
The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed up to 300,000 people and left one in seven homeless, according to the report. Damages totaled $9 billion, more than Haiti’s 2009 GDP of $7 billion, the report says. Haitians who were in the U.S. were given Temporary Protected Status, meaning they could stay in the country until conditions improved in their country. The status has been renewed through 2016.
But those with one felony or two misdemeanors lose that protection.
Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, known for her award-winning novel Brother, I’m Dying, wrote the foreword to the report. She spoke Thursday about the obstacles Haitians face when they are deported.
“I’m here to show my support for the families of the deportees who are sort of the weight of what happens,” Danticat said. “They suffer the consequences of these deportations.”
Danticat talked about the “heartbreaking” stories of those “left behind,” when a member of their family, often the breadwinner, is deported.
“They are left flailing, left struggling,” she said. “For me, it’s also about the future, about whether we are creating another layer of problems by separating these families when in many cases there are alternatives.”
The nearly 70-page report was put together by the Human Rights and Immigration Clinics at the University of Miami School of Law and the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago School of Law.
Goeffrey Louden, a member of the immigration clinic at the UM School of Law, said the group went to Haiti many times after the earthquake to talk to people who had been deported.
“This report focuses on their stories, many of whom are longtime lawful permanent residents with deep family ties to the United States,” he said, “who find themselves strangers in a strange land upon their return to a country they hardly know.”
The report includes interviews with more than 100 deportees about the conditions in Haiti. It urges the U.S. government to stop deporting people until the country is less dangerous.
And it tells the stories of people who died days after arriving in Haiti, of those forced to leave their families in the U.S. It documents the tales of people with mental or physical illnesses who are deported and then not given access to proper medical treatment.
“On just one returning flight to Haiti this year, there were two deportees with HIV, six with mental illness, nine with hypertension, five with diabetes and one who had polio,” Louden said.
Other deportees have reported illnesses such as hepatitis, diabetes, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
And many have only committed small, non-violent crimes, such as failing to return a rental car on time, the report says.
“I was shocked about the people who were deported,” said Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Haitian Women of Miami.
Bastien interviewed many people for the report, and she said she has yet to meet someone who had committed a violent crime.
“It is a grave violation of human rights to remove people and send them to a place where they are basically exposed to all kinds of conditions, to physical abuse, mental abuse,” she said. “The deportees, they told us in many interviews, that they are afraid, that they are scared to death.”
She said the impact of these deportations on children is “tremendous.” When their parents are deported, children have to step up and care for their families, she said.
Report contributors are planning to lobby in Washington in March. Louden said he hopes the stories of deportees who are “suffering” and “in pain” will help to influence lawmakers.
“We are going to do all we can to get these deportees stories heard,” he said.
“As a writer I believe in the power of stories,” Danticat added.
The report also recommends that the U.S. extend temporary protected status to all Haitians living in the U.S., regardless of their criminal status or when they got to the country.
People face poor and unstable conditions when they are sent back to Haiti, Bastien said, and it needs to end.
“We commit them to a life of misery. We send them to a place where they are exposed to all kinds of abuse and life is priceless,” she said. “This policy of deportations to Haiti right now must stop because it is inhumane. It is dangerous for these people.”