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Deportees struggle to readjust in Haiti
Decades removed from home country, criminals return to ‘inhumane’ squalor
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti | With his gold teeth, shiny earrings and a life spent mostly in Florida, Serge Michel Dorval is afraid he looks like a rich American to some of the desperate Haitians who live near him in a shantytown alongside a trash-clogged drainage ditch.
It’s a fear that keeps him up at night.
But the 25-year-old is not an American, at least not to the U.S. government, which deported him and 26 others back to the country of their birth in January in the first wave of forced removals since an earthquake last year destroyed much of the Haitian capital.
Twenty-six of the deportees have been convicted of crimes, and one was judged a national security threat.
Dorval speaks passable Creole, but he left Haiti as an infant and still is learning how to make his way in a devastated country where the vast majority of people have no job nor prospects of finding one.
Living in a tent, he misses hot showers and air conditioning. He misses his young son back in Fort Myers, Fla. He worries that his status as a deported criminal, imprisoned two years for cocaine possession, will make him a target of the police. And he wonders how he will survive.
“I wouldn’t wish Haiti on my worst enemy,” Dorval said outside the tent he shares with two others in a Port-au-Prince camp populated by thousands left homeless by last year’s cataclysmic earthquake. “I’m used to being treated like a human being, but a human life has absolutely zero value in Haiti.”
Dorval’s misery will soon have company. The U.S. government, which halted deportations to Haiti for a year after the earthquake, plans to deport another 700 convicted criminals back to the country this year, said Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She declined to say when they would be deported, citing security rules.
Hundreds of thousands of people from Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador, Jamaica and other nations have been deported to homelands they barely knew since 1996, when Congress mandated that every noncitizen sentenced to a year or more in prison be booted from the country upon release.
Immigration advocates have pleaded for a halt to the Haiti deportations, citing “inhumane conditions” in the country, where a cholera epidemic has killed more than 4,000 people since October.
Immigration officials say they have no choice under the law: They must release criminal aliens to their countries of origin unless that would be unreasonable. But since they believe Haiti has improved, deportations are now possible.
Even so, conditions are grim for the new arrivals.
One recent deportee already has died, possibly from cholera. All 27 so far have been detained on arrival by Haitian police. Most were held in dungeonlike cells for about 10 days.
“It was a nightmare, with just a bucket … and no beds, just a dirty floor,” said 24-year-old deportee Jean Daniel Maurice, who lived in Spring Valley, N.Y., and was convicted at 18 for second-degree burglary. “And if you don’t have no family bringing food, you’re not going to eat.”
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