When the deadly earthquake hit Haiti last year, an educated and well-dressed young man’s life was changed forever.
Joe, who goes by an alias to protect his identity, was an engineering student at university when the disaster struck. Although his university ID is still valid, his school is completely destroyed and many of his friends are gone.
“I had many friends and so much family, even my home – all destroyed,” said Joe.
Joe was granted a Visa to come to the United States shortly after the earthquake, but it expired a month later. He then went on to apply for temporary protected status but that only applies to Haitian nationals who were living in the US since before the tragedy.
The US government has suspended deportations to Haiti but it will soon be reversing that policy. It will begin with illegal immigrants who have committed crimes. Though Joe has no criminal history, he knows a life in America is not guaranteed.
“Officials at the Department of Homeland Security tell me at this time they are only planning to deport Haitian nationals who are criminal aliens and have no plans to deport other groups of undocumented Haitian immigrants. However, in this largely Haitian community in Queens, New York – people have little faith in that,” said Marlie Hall of theGrio.com.
The Haitian-Americans United for Progress group provides social services to thousands of undocumented Haitian immigrants every year. They are noticing what appears to be a widespread fear of deportation.
Elsie Saint Louis Accilien, the H.A.U.P. director, is uncertain of the future for the many Haitian immigrants her group takes care of.
“I understand that right now it’s just the criminals. I say that to the community. But this is as much assurance as I can give them because I have no idea what’s going to come out next week, what’s going to come out next month,” said Accilien.
Immigration lawyers serving Haitian immigrants have a full list of clients. Some living in the US illegally for years and applying for temporary protected status since the earthquake, and others with criminal backgrounds who now must go back immediately.
“These two policies are inconsistent and escapes the reality that Haiti is unsafe,” said Carrie Solages, an immigration attorney.
At a Haitian barbershop in New York, some can’t seem to brush off the notion that sending ex-cons back to Haiti with all the homelessness, cholera, and political violence – is a death sentence.
Frantz Sylvain, a Haitian-American said,
“Government here should find a way to deal with these criminals. Here! The crime wasn’t committed in Haiti. Why should they send them to Haiti? Here!”
According to the Department of Homeland Security, 700 criminal aliens from Haiti will be deported this year. In a statement they say:
“The Department of State has been working with the government of Haiti to ensure that the resumption of removals is conducted in a safe, humane manner with minimal disruption to ongoing rebuilding efforts.”
While Joe tries to rebuild his life in America, he hopes for a governmental miracle – for himself and other Haitians who face an uncertain future.
“Maybe Congress will pass a law that will give people who came after the earthquake some opportunities,” he said.
For Joe, the ultimate opportunity would be to become an “average American”.