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Protests Surround Planned Deportations To Haiti

LITTLE HAITI (CBS4) - Immigrant advocates staged a protest in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood Monday against the detention and pending deportations of hundreds of Haitians.  The Haitians all have criminal records and are being detained in preparation for deportations scheduled to begin in mid-January, when regular flights to and from Haiti are expected to resume.

"We are sending a clear message to the Obama administration to stop this nonsense right now!" declared Marleine Bastien of Haitian Women of Miami.  "To be spending taxpayer dollars to lock people up and send them back to Haiti at Christmas time is not only unfair, it's criminal."

Cheryl Little, of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), said approximately 100 Haitians held at the Krome detention facility in West Miami-Dade were recently transferred to facilities in rural Louisiana, without access to their South Florida attorneys and family support.  Little said those who have been detained have "already done their time" or  "paid their debt" for what, in many cases, were petty crimes.  More than 350 Haitians are currently being held pending deportation.

Steve Forester, of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said sending anyone to Haiti amid violence following a suspect election, a cholera plague, and January's devastating earthquake, would be "unconscionable."

"Yes, these people have some criminal infraction, but now is an insane time to be deporting anyone to Haiti with a cholera epidemic raging out of control," Forester said.

The FICA's Susana Barciela said deportation could constitute a cruel and unusual punishment.

"If they get deported, the conditions in Haiti are such that it could amount to a death sentence," Barciela said.

Little said that Haitians in the United States who could apply for lawful visas are fearful now.

"People are terrified," Little said.  "We have people who are eligible for Temporary Protected Status who are afraid to apply...because they think they're going to be detained by immigration and deported."

Barbara Gonzalez, a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), emailed CBS4 News a statement defending the government's actions.

"ICE is resuming the removal of criminal aliens in coordination with the Government of Haiti and consistent with our domestic immigration enforcement priorities. ICE is legally required to repatriate criminal aliens to their country of origin or release them into U.S. communities if their repatriation is not reasonably foreseeable," the statement said.

The controversy comes at a time of growing sentiment against illegal immigrants.

Florida's governor-elect, Rick Scott, campaigned for a tough, Arizona-style immigration law.

In a post responding to an article by CBS4's news partner, the Miami Herald, one reader wrote, "If immigration advocates are so concerned about the deportation of Haitians after they are released from jail, then let them take them into their own homes. We sure as heck don't need them roaming the streets. How about a little common sense for a change?"

Little said ICE can remove foreign nationals for the most innocuous of infractions.

"Someone who allows their driver's license to expire for four months can be called a criminal," Little said.

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