By Kevin Deutsch and Sasha Gonzales
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Legislation introduced this week in the U.S. House of Representatives would suspend deportations of Haitian nationals – including members of the Bronx’s large Haitian community – amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Haitian Deportation Relief Act, if passed by both chambers of Congress, would require the Department of Homeland Security to hold off on deporting Haitian migrants whose detention has already been deferred, and who do not pose a public safety risk for alternatives to detention.
Haiti’s minimal public health infrastructure, strained even before the pandemic, is at severe risk of being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, according to U.S officials. A recent survey of 76 percent of health facilities in Haiti found only 124 ICU beds and the capacity to ventilate 62 patients in a country of 11 million people.
Despite those statistics, the Trump administration is pressuring countries to continue accepting deportees. On April 10, the president issued a memo instructing consular officials to stop processing U.S. visas for countries that do not accept repatriated migrants.
“Deporting people to Haiti in the midst of a global pandemic is both inhumane and unsafe,” said Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who introduced the bill. “Continuing these flights will likely contribute to the spread of the novel coronavirus in the impoverished nation where many people do not have access to basic health care. That is tantamount to a death sentence for Haitians who are living with compromised water and sanitation systems and do not have access to the sanitation measures we’ve undertaken in the United States.”
Rep. Eliot L. Engel, who represents the Bronx and is chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said Trump’s decision to keep deporting Haitians here without proper documentation is “irresponsible and cruel.“
”Even before the pandemic, Haiti faced a significant political and economic crisis,” said Engel, whose borough is home to one of the largest Haitian communities in America. “These deportations are indefensible and must be halted immediately.”
In addition to the legislation, Wilson and 18 other members of Congress have sent a letter urging acting DHS Secretary Chad F. Wolf to halt the deportations, and sought support from her colleagues for another letter calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to include a provision halting Haiti deportations in the next COVID-19 legislative relief package.
The Haitian Deportation Relief Act is cosponsored by Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (MS-2), Eliot L. Engel (NY-16), Albio Sires (NJ-8), Karen Bass (CA-37), Kathy Castor (FL-14), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-9), Ted Deutch (FL-22), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Andy Levin (MI-9), James P. McGovern (MA-2), Gregory W. Meeks (NY-5), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Darren Soto (FL-9), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-7), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23).