As Hurricane Matthew, a dangerous Category 4 storm with devastating 145mph winds, hits Haiti and the Caribbean, Haitian families are also dealing with a sudden change in US entry rules that is dividing family members trying to enter the US. Late last month the US government decided to fully resume deportations of undocumented Haitian immigrants after previously allowing undocumented Haitians to enter the US and apply for temporary humanitarian parole, which was instituted in response to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The policy change announced September 22 is a response by the Obama administration to a recent large influx of Haitian migrants who have traveled north from Brazil to Mexico to seek entry to the US at various points along the border.
Until late last month, most Haitian undocumented immigrants have been given permission to remain in the country for as long as three years under the humanitarian parole provision, immigrant advocates said. With the policy change, however, Haitians who arrive at the border without visas will be put into expedited removal proceedings. Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, justified the move in a statement by noting that Haiti had “improved sufficiently to permit the U.S. government to remove Haitian nationals on a more regular basis.”
The sudden deportation policy change has separated wives from husbands and children from their fathers, stranding men in Mexico. “I’m hoping God makes miracles,” Sandra Alexandre, who was allowed into the US last month ahead of her boyfriend and gave birth three days later, tells the New York Times. Immigrant advocates in San Diego have reportedly identified more than fifty families in that city alone separated due the policy change, and are making appeals to Homeland Security officials to help reunite the families. “The bottom line is that this was not a well-conceived policy,” Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, a group helping Haitians who have crossed the border, tells the New York Times. “It seemed to have come down from one day to the next without a clear understanding of what was going on and what kind of impact it would have.”
Part of the reason for why families are being separated is that border officials have been using an appointment system giving priority to women and children. Men, even when accompanying their partners and children, usually had to wait for later appointments in overcrowded shelters. Sandra Alexandre, for example, arrived in the border city of Mexicali with her boyfriend, Volcy Dieumercy, after a ten-week trip from Curitiba, Brazil. Because she was pregnant, Mexican and American border officials granted Alexandre an earlier appointment but denied the couple’s request that Dieumercy be processed on the same day. Alexandre entered under a three-year humanitarian parole, and soon learned that Dieumercy had been barred from entering under the new policy. If Dieumercy is not allowed into the country she is unsure of what she would do. “I haven’t thought that far ahead,” she says. “Right now, I’m only thinking positively.” Dieumercy knows that if he tries to enter the US at a port of entry, he will probably be deported to Haiti. “I need my family,” he says. “I can’t wait any longer. I’m very sad.”
Haitian nationals currently covered by Temporary Protected Status are unaffected by this change in policy, the Department of Homeland Security says. Specifically, Haitian nationals who have been continuously residing in the US since January 12, 2011 and currently hold TPS may remain in the United States and are not subject to removal. At this time it is uncertain if a potentially devastating Hurricane Matthew would cause the US government to reverse the recent deportation policy change. We will provide updates as we receive them.
UPDATE OCTOBER 14, 2016:
US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced this week at an event in Mexico City that after Hurricane Matthew ravaged Haiti, killing at least a thousand people and leaving 1.4 million in need of humanitarian assistance, it has temporarily suspended deportations. "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 at the event. "But after that condition has been addressed, we intend to resume the policy change," he added, though he did not specify a time frame.