Haitian Refugees and the U.S. Asylum System – Latest News
Human Rights First Urges DHS and Congress to Help Haitians Stranded by Quake
Human Rights First joined with dozens of other NGOs to urge DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to take crucial steps including rescinding the so-called "shout test"–a discriminatory non-process by which Haitians picked up at sea will be returned to Haiti unless they express fear through physical resistance or shouting. Read March 12, 2010, letter to Secretary Napolitano.Human Rights First also joined dozens of other NGOs to urge Congress to support the Haitian Emergency Protection Act of 2010 (S. 2998 and H. 4616), which would allow 55,000 Haitians with approved family visa applications to enter the United States to join their families while waiting for their green cards. Read April 12, 2010, letter to Congress. (04/20/10)
For the Victims of the Earthquake in Haiti
Human Rights First extends its deepest sympathies to those affected by the earthquake, and their loved ones. We welcome Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano's announcement that the United States will extend Temporary Protected Status to Haitians living in the United States, and urge the Obama administration to revisit the United States' flawed and discriminatory policies on interdiction at sea and develop standards that comport with this country's human rights commitments and its values.Read the press release (02/15/10). Read Huffington Post article by HRF's Eleanor Acer (2/10/10). (01/15/10)
Edwidge Danticat Testifies on Reverend Dantica's Death in Immigration DetentionOn October 4, 2007, Edwidge Danticat testified about the death of her uncle, Reverend Joseph Dantica, in immigration detention after he came to the U.S. in search of protection from persecution in Haiti. Ms. Danticat was one of the witnesses at a Congressional hearing on immigration detention medical care that was held before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law. Rev. Dantica, a Baptist minister, died while in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in late 2004. During her testimony, Ms. Danticat recalled the circumstances preceding her uncle's death and spoke out against conditions of medical treatment in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention. In the wake of Rev. Dantica's case the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also called on U.S. immigration authorities to stop detaining asylum seekers like Rev. Dantica, who arrive on valid travel documents, because they indicate that they might seek refuge from persecution in the U.S. To read Ms. Danticat's testimony, click here. (11/06/07)
Investigation Needed After Baptist Minister's Death in U.S. Immigration JailBaptist Minister Joseph Dantica fled Haiti and asked for asylum at the Miami Airport on October 29, 2004. The Department of Homeland Security put the 81-year-old reverend in an immigration jail in Miami. Several days later, Rev. Dantica died in DHS custody. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in February 2005, recommended that DHS no longer jail asylum seekers who arrive, like Reverend Dantica, on their own passports and visas, and request asylum. More » Read full USCIRF report Read Human Rights First letter to DHS Secretary Ridge (11/18/04)
Haitian Refugees at Risk Due to U.S. Interdiction PoliciesDespite escalating political upheaval and violence in Haiti, in February 2004 the Bush Administration declared that it will continue to return to Haiti any Haitians who are interdicted at sea.
On February 29, 2004, President-Bertrand Aristide left Haiti, and widespread concern about security and safety there persists.
In the end of February 2004, President Bush announced that the U.S. would "turn back any refugee that attempts to reach our shore" from Haiti. Although U.S. officials subsequently clarified that the U.S. would not return those with credible concerns about persecution, the current practice for identifying people who have such a fear is completely inadequate. In the last week of Feburary alone, 881 Haitian refugees were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard and returned to Haiti. On February 28, 336 Haitians were forcibly returned by the U.S. Coast Guard to the dangerous situation in Port-au-Prince.
Under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the United States is prohibited from returning refugees to countries where their lives or freedom are threatened. Current U.S. policy towards those seeking to flee Haiti risks violating this obligation by failing to ensure that those returned are not entitled to protection as refugees. Haitians interdicted at sea are not informed of their right to seek asylum and are not interviewed by any U.S. official to determine whether or not they are in danger of persecution if returned.
Human Rights First urges the U.S. to change its interdiction practices toward Haitians and comply with its legal obligations to refrain from returning refugees to persecution. No migrants should be returned to Haiti when the situation there is so dangerous that their safety cannot be assured. The U.S. should not, under any circumstances, return people to Haiti without first ascertaining whether those interdicted have a fear of return.
Those who are interdicted should, prior to any return to Haiti, be individually and privately interviewed, with appropriate translation, to ensure that they are not refugees who are in danger of persecution if returned. Each person should be advised that he or she can request asylum from the United States if they have a fear of return to their home country. Interdicted Haitians should be brought to safety – outside of Haiti – if not in the U.S., then in a safe third country or other place where their safety and humane treatment can be ensured.
Haitian Refugees and the U.S. Asylum System - BackgroundThe country of Haiti is consumed by political violence and turmoil, and it is not surprising that those in danger feel the need to flee. The United States is obliged, under international law, not to return people to a country where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their political opinions. Yet U.S. detention and interdiction policies toward Haitian refugees are harsh and increasingly discriminatory. Under U.S. procedures, migrants who are interdicted on boats are not given access to lawyers and are not all screened to make sure that they are not refugees who are in danger of persecution if returned. While Cuban migrants are read a statement in Spanish notifying them that they may come forward and speak with a U.S. representative if they have any concerns and Chinese migrants are provided with a written questionnaire, Haitian and other migrants are not provided with any indication, written or oral, that they can express their fears about being returned. Even if a Haitian asylum seeker should voice a fear of persecution, the U.S. government does not require that translators be present on every interdicted boat so their fears may never be heard. Since an influx of arrivals of Haitian asylum seekers by boat began in December 2001, the U.S. government has initiated a series of concerted steps that have subjected Haitians to blanket detention, have attempted to deprive them of any meaningful individualized assessment of their release, and subjected them to unfair expedited procedures. These steps include:
- The initial blanket detention policy directed at Haitian asylum seekers.
- The invocation of expanded post-9/11 detention authority in an attempt to prevent the release of Haitian asylum seekers who were found to be eligible for release by immigration judges.
- The expansion of expedited removal to sea arrivals – which had the effect of subjecting future Haitian asylum seekers to unfair summary procedures as well as depriving them of the right to have an immigration judge assess their eligibility for release.
- The expedited scheduling of Haitian asylum cases — so quickly that many were not able to find legal representations.
- The issuance of a sweeping decision by the Attorney General which will have the effect of depriving Haitan asylum seekers of an individualized assessment of the need for their continued detention.