The U.S. Deportees in Haitian Jails

Guy S. Antoine
January 2001

During my recent trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, I went to a prison in Leogane to visit U.S. Haitian deportees and the miserable conditions they are thrown into. Another heart-rending experience: first the encounter with Haitians in the Dominican bateys, then with Haitians in the Dominican coffee plantations, and finally with Haitians in Haitian jails for having been deported by the U.S., according to the racist, cynical, and cruel immigration statute (Anti-Terrorist Act) which allows them to deport any non-U.S. citizen who had been convicted of petty crimes such as selling marijuana. The deportation usually happens years (try twelve or even twenty) after those people paid their debts to U.S. society by serving their sentences, and an additional stay, lasting up to several months, in a federal detention center, waiting for their inevitable expulsion to Haiti.

Many of these people were recently leading productive lives and they were snatched away from their families (wives, husbands, children) and sent to a detention center in the U.S. where most stayed for months (four, five, etc) and then sent to Haiti. Many of these people have no family whatsoever in Haiti, and many do not even speak Krey˛l. Some were NOT EVEN born in Haiti.

They may have been born in the Bahamas or one of the surrounding islands. And though the U.S. is responsible for sending to Haiti the largest contingent of deportees, other countries are following suit. I visited a 19 year-old from Guadeloupe, born there of Haitian parents. He got convicted of some minor crime, and was then deported to Haiti, a country that he is getting to know for the first time in his life. As Michelle Karshan related to me: "He served eight months in jail in Guadeloupe and then the French government put him in an Air France plane with a group of refugees and deported him to Haiti where he was held in jail for five months until I finally convinced the police to let me sign him out under my responsibility. His aunt in Guadeloupe doesn't even know what happened to him! He is still in shock having come from a luxury island to Haiti. He is still 19 years old and really needs to be living in a family setting."

He does have a real name, but he prefers to be called Guadeloupe. He was put in a village home, and as I heard him say, everyone in the village looks at him as though he just descended from Mars. At least, he received a break, having been rescued by Chans Altenativ, where he is given some assistance to learn how to adjust to his new environment. The guys I saw in the Leogane jail were not so lucky. They had just been let out to take a shower and to breathe in some fresh air from 10 days of "darkroom isolation" (my characterization) for a fight that flared between themselves, in what must have looked like the beginning of a mutiny, but was borne out of plain frustration over their abrupt and unfair separation from their families back in the U.S. They were placed, at least a dozen per dark and narrow cell, with no sanitary facilities, meaning you eat where you defecate. Those guys were EXTREMELY bitter about the U.S. Who among us can blame them? Perhaps only those who have never broken any law. Let them speak now.

But from what I hear there were even more horrible conditions than those at this Leogane prison. If those guys continued to vent their frustrations as loudly as they did, they could be sent for detention in Port-au-Prince. They just did not realize how "lucky" they still were. Ask, but no... she is dead already, the young lady who got separated from her small kids in the U.S. and spent her last few days on the floor of her Port-au-Prince jail cell, suffering from stomach cramps, and denied any medical care. She did not last long at all.

Those guys were bitter about their conditions in Haiti, but they seem more understanding of the Haitian government which has no physical and human resources to handle them and to process them. Some of them do have psychiatric problems, some of them are diabetic and desperately need insulin, many of them DO die in jail for lack of proper care. The U.S. keeps deporting them to Haiti systematically, and all U.S. citizens should be ashamed of their government that allows this HORROR to take place in the 21st century.

Many of them have worked 10, 20, even 30 years, and will NEVER see their Social Security checks and other employment benefits. It is a crying shame.

The Haitian government seems to have no resources to handle the influx of U.S. deportees, some of them in need of medical care, most in need of psychological counseling. A few of them could even be hardened criminals. A good many of them no longer have family ties to Haiti (and the prison system depends on family members to feed the incarcerated). To keep the current system is a grave injustice. To let everyone loose as they arrive in Haiti would constitute a loss of proper control for the government of Haiti, and a serious handicap for both the resource poor Haitian people and the deportees themselves.

So what to do? Chans Altenativ is a good starting point, and Michelle Karshan should be commanded for her efforts. She brings rice, cooking oil, and whatever food staples she can afford to the jailers, so the U.S. deportees, especially those without any other contact in Haiti, can eat. She also brings them books to read, and it was quite a sight to see those people converge on a pile of English language books, looking for a title, an author, or a topic, anything that would offer a moment of evasion from their isolation in jail in a country that they left oh so many years ago, and for some, a country that they never knew. That seemed to sum up the definition of a cruel and unusual punishment, courtesy of the U.S.

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