MIAMI – Immigration authorities repatriated 26 Haitians previously convicted of crimes on Thursday, plus another man who was acquitted in a 2007 terror plot, the first such deportations since the Obama administration halted them following the devastating 2010 earthquake.
The deportations were immediately criticized by members of the Haitian-American community and immigration advocates who say the Haitians will face dire, inhumane conditions on their return.
"I think it's outrageous and it's inhumane and very insensitive," said Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Haitian Women of Miami. "We are outraged, really outraged."
An attorney for Lyglenson Lemorin, who was acquitted in 2007 of a plot to destroy the Sears Tower in Chicago, confirmed the 35-year-old man was among those deported.
Officials have said Lemorin remained a national security threat. Five others were convicted in the case.
"Mr. Lemorin's removal is a high water mark in the injustice inherent in our broken immigration system," Charles H. Kuck, his attorney, said. "Deporting an innocent man should never be condoned."
Kuck is appealing Lemorin's deportation.
In a statement, Barbara Gonzalez, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the removals were "consistent with ICE's priority of removing aliens who pose a threat to public safety."
Gonzalez added that ICE will continue the deportations periodically.
Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, a nonprofit law firm, said the Haitian deportees were being sent back to a "death trap."
"Why is it so urgent for the U.S. to deport Haitians when Haiti remains in ruin?" she said.
According to the firm, deportees who have a criminal history are routinely held in inhumane jail conditions in Haiti, not fed or provided medical care.
"Whether or not they have served a criminal sentence, no Haitian should be sent to a cholera-infested jail where they risk death," the organization said in a statement.
Haiti is still recovering from the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that killed an estimated 316,000 people and a subsequent cholera epidemic that has killed thousands and complicated recovery efforts. The tiny Caribbean nation is also facing political instability following the disputed Nov. 28 first-round presidential election.
On Sunday, former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier unexpectedly returned after being forced into exile following a mass uprising nearly 25 years ago, sending shock waves through the country.
Duvalier took over the presidency after his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, died and ruled from 1971-1986 and has been accused of widespread human rights abuses.
Bastien said her organization found out about the deportations after being contacted by relatives of the repatriated Haitians. She said the families are "devastated."
"There's a high chance that they will be detained in Haiti, and we are really concerned about their safety," she said.
Florida State Rep. Daphne Campbell, whose district includes Miami's Little Haiti, said she didn't wish to comment on the deportation of those convicted of crimes, but that she did reach out to Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama in hopes of discussing immigration policy toward Haitians.