strategies for a developing world…

Immigration Horrors

This week, The Washington Post published a 4-part series on healthcare delivery, or more importantly, the substandard healthcare delivered to immigrants detained under the draconian immigration rules enacted over the last 10 years to control immigration, and rid the US of persons (immigrants and non-immigrants) deemed undesirable or found to be in violation the law. You can access the series by clicking on this link.

Those who come into contact with the immigration system for the first time may be outraged by what they read. And so they should be. Unfortunately for those of us who have long been in the trenches, this is deja vu.

Edwige Danticat at Uncle's Funeral One of the cases that illustrates the medical horrors perpetrated on immigrants is that of the Reverend Joseph Dantica who died in custody in the Fall of 2004. The story is amply recounted in the series, so I will not repeat it here. Back in 2004 however, when the injustice came to light, I joined Edwige Danticat, Michele Montas, Jonathan Demme, Ed Saxon and Walter Moseley in calling for a thorough investigation into the death for which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) callously assumed no responsibility.

I was at the time the Executive Director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR). To this day, DHS continues to deny responsibility. DHS claimed back  in 2004 that Rev. Dantica died of a pre-existing condition, pancreatic cancer. The Washington Post says in the series that doctors who reviewed Dantica’s medical history report that he probably died of heart failure. Nothing says that it could not have been prevented. It wasn’t simply because adequate medical care is the least concern of an agency pressed to earn its stripes by treating detainees in immigration custody as badly as they can to pressure them into giving up what little rights and minimal care they are entitled to under US and international law.

Below is the statement that I issued on behalf of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights at the time.

Haitian Asylum-Seeker Dies in Immigration Custody
Haitian Rights Coalition Calls for Full Investigation

New York, November 17, 2004 — Caught in the terrifying crossfire of the political violence and lawlessness that has gripped Haiti since September, 81-year old Joseph Dantica ran away to the United States, seeking shelter and comfort in the arms of his family. Instead, he faced the hellish nightmare Haitian refugees before him have confronted when seeking asylum in the US: held overnight at Miami International Airport, placed in detention at Krome North, isolated from family, friends and legal help, facing an Immigration bureaucracy that from the top down has been hostile to Haitians’ claims of fear of persecution. He arrived in Miami on October 29, and was pronounced dead on November 3.

“Pastor Dantica was a man of faith who put his fate in the hands of the US government. A visitor to the US since the 1970s, he had little intention of spending the rest of his life in the US. He hoped to return there when peace and calm were restored,” said Jocelyn McCalla, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. He was instead treated like a pauper. Neither his frequent visits to the US, nor his close relationship with his famous niece, celebrated Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat, compelled a more humane government response.

“We call on the Justice Department to conduct a full and impartial investigation into the tragic death of Mr. Dantica,” said Mr. McCalla. “More importantly, we urge a review and overhaul of the policy that singles out Haitian refugees and immigrants for discriminatory treatment. Cuban asylum-seekers can walk away happily after applying for asylum whereas Haitians are held behind bars. For the fifth time since 1999, the US government has granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Nicaraguans and Hondurans because of the earthquake damage in their countries since then. Yet it has repeatedly denied TPS to Haitians whose country undoubtedly meets the conditions for such considerations: ongoing armed conflict and environmental disaster. Haitian asylum-seekers deserve to be treated fairly and equitably. Non-immigrant Haitians in the US should be granted TPS.”

The need for the Bush Administration to grant TPS to Haitian nationals is as urgent as ever. In recent weeks, Haiti has gone through another political upheaval,  this time because of the scarcity of affordable food. Protests against the high cost of food — which largely consists of imported food and thus subject to current international price fluctuations due to scarcity and speculation — led to riots and to a vote of no confidence by the Haitian Parliament for Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis. President Rene Preval nominated Ericq Pierre, but his nomination was soundly defeated earlier this week. The stalemate between the President and the Parliament has so far lasted more than a month. No quick resolution of this political casse-tete is foreseen.

But it will take more than chaos in Haiti for President Bush to move positively on the demand for TPS. As his Administration has demonstrated over time, humanitarian concerns are not enough to get him to act. Organized domestic political pressure from an informed electorate is the necessary kicker. And that in part depends on the ability of Haitian-Americans to become deeply involved in moving things along on a sustained basis.

Take stock of the series, and  leave me some comments.

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