WASHINGTON – In comments submitted to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the American Civil Liberties Union strongly opposed the agency’s proposed policy which formalizes the resumption of deportations to Haiti. The ACLU’s comments were submitted during an extremely limited period ICE has allowed for public input. ICE’s proposed policy comes on the heels of reports earlier this year that the agency had already resumed deportations to Haiti, a practice which ICE stated would be temporarily halted following last year’s catastrophic earthquake and the raging cholera epidemic that followed.
In January of this year, ICE deported 27 Haitians, most of whom were immediately incarcerated in Haitian jails with dungeon-like conditions. One Haitian deportee displayed cholera-like symptoms and later died. The ACLU expressed serious concerns regarding the resumption of deportations to Haiti and called on the U.S. government to bring its policy in line with international human rights and refugee laws.
The comments state, “It is only now, nearly two months after the resumed deportations of Haitians, that ICE has chosen to post publicly for the first time its proposed policy for resumed deportations to Haiti… ICE’s actions since December show that it is focused only on trying to justify retrospectively its original decision to resume deportations of Haitians, and has no interest in hearing and responding to the concerns of human rights groups, humanitarian service organizations, medical care providers, and Haitian community associations in the U.S. that have expressed opposition to the resumed deportations. ICE’s actions run counter to this administration’s stated commitment to government transparency and accountability.”
According to the comments, “The U.S. government should not engage in the forced removal of people to any country when the consequences of such removal would be to subject them to persecution, torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment… The ACLU implores the U.S. government, including all affected departments and agencies, to scrutinize carefully the overwhelmingly negative implications of continuing with ICE’s policy of resumed deportations of Haitians. One deportee has already died upon arrival in Haiti this year, and the dire conditions in Haiti foretell more, absent a change of course in ICE policy.”
The full text of the comments can be found below.
Secretary Janet Napolitano
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Re: Comments in response to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) proposed Policy for Resumed Removals to Haiti
Dear Secretary Napolitano:
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) submits these comments in response to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) proposed Policy for Resumed Removals to Haiti. The ACLU is a non-partisan organization of more than half a million members, countless additional activists and supporters, and 53 affiliates nationwide dedicated to enforcing the fundamental rights of the Constitution and laws of the United States. The ACLU Human Rights Program engages in litigation, advocacy, and public education to hold the U.S. government accountable to universal human rights principles and rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project engages in a nationwide program of litigation, advocacy, and public education to enforce and protect the constitutional and civil rights of immigrants.
We oppose ICE’s resumption of removals to Haiti and urge the administration to stop sending Haitians into calamitous circumstances that threaten their well-being. ICE’s actions contravene established principles of international human rights and refugee law, and deprive Haitians of the individualized due process that has long been the hallmark of the American justice system. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the U.N. Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti have recommended that all countries “refrain from expelling Haitians and continue to provide decent temporary arrangements for their protections on humanitarian grounds.”
The proposed ICE policy shows no evidence of meaningful consultation with key stakeholders including the State Department, international agencies, or nongovernmental organizations familiar with conditions on the ground in Haiti. ICE’s policy must immediately be changed in order to avoid further suffering and deaths of Haitian deportees.
I.Proposed Policy Should Have Been Released for a Reasonable Comment Period Before ICE Resumed Deportations to Haiti.
It is undeniable that serious humanitarian concerns and complicated questions regarding international law obligations are raised by ICE’s decision to remove certain Haitians. The ACLU and then Congresswoman-Elect Frederica Wilson previously communicated our objections to ICE’s plans to resume deportations of Haitians in our letter dated December 29, 2010. On January 20, 2011, ICE deported 27 Haitians including one who had filed a Request for Precautionary Measures with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The IACHR two weeks later urged the U.S. government to revisit its deportation decision because proceeding with deportations of Haitians “could jeopardize [Haitians’] lives, considering the humanitarian crisis that persists in the country, especially the detention conditions in jails and prisons.”
After ICE resumed deportations of Haitians in January, one deportee died in Haiti after displaying cholera-like symptoms. It is only now, nearly two months after the resumed deportations of Haitians, that ICE has chosen to post publicly for the first time its proposed policy for resumed deportations to Haiti. We fail to comprehend why ICE failed to post its policy for comment months ago. Now, having done so after such an inordinate delay, ICE has compounded the problem by limiting the public comment period to a mere five days– an inexplicably brief period of time for the public to learn of the new policy and to respond with written comments in any meaningful and substantive way. ICE’s actions since December show that it is focused only on trying to justify retrospectively its original decision to resume deportations of Haitians, and has no interest in hearing and responding to the concerns of human rights groups, humanitarian service organizations, medical care providers, and Haitian community associations in the U.S. that have expressed opposition to the resumed deportations. ICE’s actions run counter to this administration’s stated commitment to government transparency and accountability.
II.The United States’ International Legal Obligations Prohibit Deportations to the Dire Conditions in Haiti.
Under international human rights law, governments are prohibited from deporting a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that such individuals would be in danger of being subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. International refugee law prohibits the return of refugees to a territory where the refugee’s life or freedom may be threatened. These obligations universally reflect the principle of non-refoulement – a widely-accepted norm of international law.