Only 'Magic' Can Help Post-Disaster Haiti Prepare for U.S. Deportees

Photo: Getty

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security pulled the plug on the temporary protected status it designated Haiti following the country’s 2010 earthquake. Per the announcement, the country has made “considerable progress” since the 2010 earthquake. The problem is, that’s bullshit. 

After a slew of natural disasters, Haiti is no position to accommodate the more than 50,000 U.S.-based Haitians now facing deportation.


Haiti’s 2010 earthquake devastated the nation, killing up to 316,000 people and leaving more than 1.5 million without a home. But things aren’t looking better these days—in fact, some say the situation is much worse now. Not only is Haiti still dealing with the fallout from that earthquake, but it’s also failed to recover from Hurricane Matthew last year, and Hurricanes Irma and Maria this year.

“I don’t expect that, 18 months from now, Haiti is going to be better—unless we think magically,” University of Miami Social Sciences Professor Louis Herns Marcelin told Earther.

Magic can’t solve this country’s issues, which include the lingering impacts of those natural disasters, compounded by general political instability and poverty. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, per the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook. Twenty-four percent of its population lives in extreme poverty (that’s US$1.23 a day), and nearly 60 percent of Haitians live below the national poverty line.


Haiti’s economic problems have only gotten worse since Hurricane Matthew devastated the island nation in 2016. Matthew decreased the country’s GDP by 25 percent, according to a report out in May from the Interuniversity for Research and Development (INURED), which Marcelin co-founded and which is dedicated to the socioeconomic success of Haiti.

The storm also destroyed the agricultural sector in the South, an industry two-fifths of all Haitians rely on. Farmers lost their stored seeds, and crops died, per the INURED report. “The South is the bread basket, and it’s been totally stricken by the aftermath of Matthew,” said Marcelin.


This is not only a strain on the economy; it’s a strain on survival. People need food to eat. In some areas, up to 90 percent of livestock and crops were lost. Trees that grow avocados, mangos, and coconuts will take years to regrow.

A home destroyed by Hurricane Matthew, in Port-a-Piment, a district of Les Cayes, Haiti. Photo: AP

There’s also political instability. President Jovenel Moise, who just took office earlier this year, has already faced corruption allegations and real distrust throughout Haitian society. His government is in a fragile state, and according to Marcelin, people don’t want to take part in the electoral process.

With the political instability, lack of infrastructure, and loss of reputable institutions comes the country’s notorious crime. Haiti has no rule of law, Marcelin said. “Whoever has more physical power, whoever holds the gun, holds whatever he or she wants.”


People who bring their life savings from America could easily become targets for crime and theft. They can also get caught in the island’s “endemic” issue, as Marcelin put it, of human trafficking. An estimated 150,000-500,000 children (a range so large it highlights just how swept under the rug the issue is) are trafficked into, essentially, slavery.


It’s up to Haiti to prepare for this influx of people. By Marcelin’s standards, that’ll require “magic.” Because fixing all the systemic issues is highly unlikely, he hopes that the country prioritizes building an effective justice system so newcomers can feel safe to spend their money, to go to work, and to build a new life. The government should also begin figuring out what skill sets Haitians in the U.S. might bring to the island and ensure a job market exists for them.

Ronyde Ponthieux, 10, cries as she talks about her family’s immigration status at a news conference in Miami. Photo: AP

The real question, however, is will people go back? The federal government is instructing the more than 50,000 Haitians living in the U.S. to voluntarily self-deport by July 2019. In actuality, folks may opt to remain and live undocumented.

“I don’t think Haitians are going to be voluntarily returning home in large numbers when this status formally ends,” Donald Kerwin, executive director for the Center for Migration Studies of New York, told Earther.


If they choose to stay, Haitian refugees would join the other estimated 11 million undocumented people in the United States and face deportation under a more stringent federal immigration policy.

The way Kerwin sees it, President Donald Trump should be working on creating a permanent legal status for this “productive, contributing population,” not making them undocumented.


Marcelin, on the other hand, thinks the administration can benefit from some education. The idea that Haitians will voluntarily leave their American lives to build new ones in a poverty- and crime-stricken nation makes him scoff.

“When Haitians go back to Haiti, everybody will see them as somebody who as something from whom you can take something
,” he said.


He doesn’t imagine people will just up and leave—and he doesn’t want them to, either. He wants them to organize and fight for their right to stay.

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About the author

Yessenia Funes

Senior staff writer, Earther. The one who "pulls the race card" in the name of environmental justice. You dig?

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