Lawyers Join Forces to Protest Deportation of Haitians

The New York Times reports that using documents as their weapon of choice, lawyers from around the country today joined forces to file dozens of motions attacking the Homeland Security Agency's continued deportation of Haitian citizens.

The lawyers filed motions in dozens of cases, asking immigration judges to stop the deportations because their clients' lives may be threatened. The State Department has warned Americans against traveling to Haiti, citing the lack of an effective police force and the presence of armed gangs engaged in kidnappings and violent crime.

The lawyers, who held news conferences in Miami, New York, Boston and Philadelphia, said they were acting because homeland security officials had not given Haitians temporary protected status, which temporarily prevents the deportation of immigrants who cannot return to their native countries because of armed conflict, natural disasters or other extraordinary conditions.

Immigrants from Burundi, El Salvador, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan have temporary protected status. The immigration lawyers involved in Thursday's protest said the situation in Haiti had been far worse than in those three Central American countries since a violent uprising and intense pressure by the United States forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power in 2004.

It's bad in Haiti.

The United Nations says it has documented widespread cases of unlawful arrests and has received credible reports of police involvement in executions and banditry. The State Department says more than 25 Americans were kidnapped in Haiti last year, and local authorities say that over Christmas, kidnappings peaked to as many as 12 a day. Travel is so hazardous in Port-au-Prince, the capital, that American Embassy personnel have been barred from leaving their homes at night. More than 10 United Nations soldiers have been killed, officials say.

The lawyers are asking immigration judges to administratively close the deportation cases until things improve in Haiti. Their motions state (from the press release, received by e-mail):

The Motion states, “Despite the ongoing chaos that continues in Haiti, including brutal civil strife, documented bloody political conflict, indisputable countrywide insecurity and the proven inability of the Haitian state to protect its own people, the United States continues to refuse refuge to fleeing Haitians.”

The Motion is a necessary response to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) failure to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians facing removal from the United States. TPS temporarily suspends the forced repatriation of nationals to countries whose governments cannot protect them from immediate threats to their lives, freedom, and welfare based on a broad variety of conditions.

Lawyer Ira Kurzban says:

“Conditions in Haiti are catastrophic -- uncontrolled violence, political paralysis, economic meltdown, and natural disaster. It’s immoral to deport anyone given such horrendous conditions, and it’s getting worse, not better. The Bush administration is in large measure responsible for the current situation in Haiti and should recognize its responsibility by granting Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in the United States.”

DHS can designate a country for TPS based on internal armed conflict, overwhelming natural disaster, or extraordinary temporary conditions preventing safe return of its nationals. In addition to the above catastrophic conditions, Haiti continues to suffer the repercussions of recent hurricanes, devastating floods, and landslides in which more than 10,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were made homeless. There is no doubt that conditions for TPS eligibility have been met. In light of the overwhelming need for it to be granted to all Haitian nationals, the U.S. government must stop deportations to Haiti.

Here's a list of the organizations and individuals supporting the lawyers' actions:

World Service Immigration and Refugee Program, Dr. Paul Farmer, TransAfrica Forum, Ira Kurzban, Esq., American Immigration Lawyers Association, Church World Relief, National Council of Churches of Christ USA, Mark Dow, Jonathan E. Avirom, Esq., Haitian Lawyers Association, Episcopal Migration Ministries, Haitian Physicians Association, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, Bishop Thomas Wenski, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, and the Jesuit Refugee Service.

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