As someone who writes about deportation, I hear and write about heartbreaking stories on a regular basis. Trust me, then, when I say that the deportation of people born in the Bahamas from the United States to Haiti is just about as bad as it gets.
Here’s the scenario. When Haitian citizens have children in the Bahamas, and they are in that country illegally, the children are Haitian citizens. If those children subsequently come to the United States and commit a minor or major criminal offense, they face deportation to Haiti.
There is a woman currently in immigration detention in Northern Florida. Seth Freed Wessler interviewed her, and he calls her Natalia, so I will do the same. Natalia was born in the Bahamas to a Haitian woman, which makes her a citizen of Haiti, even though she has never been to Haiti. When Natalia was two days old, her mother brought her to the United States. Fast forward twenty years. Natalia, now the mother of a newborn, is caught shoplifting with the father of her child. Her attorney advises her to plead guilty to get a lesser sentence. She does. However, now she faces deportation to Haiti. The United States is the only country Natalia has ever known. She does not speak Haitian Creole. Yet, she faces deportation to Haiti, a country still recovering from a massive earthquake, with political unrest, and a cholera outbreak.
The Los Angeles Times reports on a similar case. Patrick Escarment was born in the Bahamas to a Haitian woman. When he was four years old, she brought him to the United States. His mother died when Patrick was a young man, and he turned to selling cocaine during those tough times. He was convicted of selling cocaine, and sentenced to 18 months of probation. In January 2011, at the age of 21, he was deported to Haiti. Upon arrival, he was placed in a squalid holding cell covered with feces, urine, blood and vomit. One of the other deportees with whom he arrived, 34-year old Wildrick Guerrier, died of cholera-like symptoms two weeks after arriving in Haiti.
Deporting people born in the Bahamas and raised in the United States to Haiti for minor criminal offenses is a clear example of a punishment that does not fit the crime. Both Patrick and Natalia have children in the United States – children who will grow up without one of their parents. The suggestion that they take their children with them to Haiti is unrealistic, as they can barely survive in the country themselves. Both Patrick and Natalia were convicted of fairly minor crimes, and the punishment of exile from the only country they have ever known is exceedingly harsh. Moreover, they are being deported to Haiti, a country they know nothing about, have no ties to, and whose language they do not speak. That would be bad enough, but, to top things off, Haiti is still recovering from a massive earthquake and has a cholera epidemic.
TANYA GOLASH-BOZA is on the faculty at the University of Kansas. She blogs at: http://www.stopdeportationsnow.blogspot.com/