Haitian-Americans, myself included, have been especially proud that our adoptive homeland not only took the lead in recovery and relief efforts in Haiti after the massive January earthquake, but also temporarily suspended deportations of undocumented Haitian immigrants and granted them work permits so that they could earn income and help affected relatives in Haiti.
Obama took these steps in short order while consistently voicing support and sympathy for the Haitian people, not to mention providing $930 million in aid to Haiti after the earthquake. Just last week the U.S. pledged $1.15 billion more in rebuilding aid at the International Donors Conference for Haiti. These moves only intensified the immense goodwill Haitians here and in Haiti have for Americans in general and for Pres. Obama in particular.
So it was with deep disappointment, and distress, that we learned from the New York Times last week that some of the people who were evacuated from Haiti by U.S. Marines in the chaotic days after the earthquake had been jailed in immigration detention centers from the first day they arrived here. Some of them were even kept in shackles. None had been deemed criminals or a security threats; they simply had no papers proving they were legal immigrants.
That many of the evacuees lost everything in the disaster and arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs was apparently beside the point to U.S immigration authorities. But for Haitian-Americans and non-hyphenated Americans too, this was the point – and an outrageous one at that. How can the very administration that urged Americans to show compassion and charity towards Haiti and its traumatized people turn around and jail some of those very same people? It was more than a cruel slap in the face; it was bureaucratic kick in the gut.