A Haitian man who was among the first U.S deportees back to the country since last year's catastrophic earthquake has died after leaving a crowded Haitian detention center suffering from cholera-like symptoms. The case has stoked immigrant rights advocates' worst fears that the decision by federal U.S. immigration officials to resume deportations to the country while it limps toward recovering from the earthquake and battles a cholera epidemic and political upheaval could prove deadly for some Haitian nationals.
Wildrick Guerrier, 34, was deported on January 20 along with 26 others in the first group sent back to Haiti since the country's earthquake last year. After the disaster, the Obama administration offered Temporary Protective Status (TPS) to all Haitians living in the U.S. The special status is usually reserved for immigrants facing war or disaster in their home countries, which makes their return especially dangerous. The administration then announced late last year that it would resume deportations to the country for those who either didn't apply for TPS or lacked the the needed documentation.
Seth Freed Wessler wrote in January that those with criminal convictions, even minor ones, are not eligible for protection and faced immediate deportation.
Guerrier was among this group. The Haitian national had originally been convicted on charges of assaulting a law enforcement officers, for which he served probation. Cheryl Little of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center told the Miami Herald that Guerrier had then served less than two years in jail for a conviction on a charge of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm while working as an armed security guard.
Guerrier had reportedly been in good health after he was initially deported nearly three weeks ago. But upon arrival in the country, he was advocates say he was packed into a crowded cell with 17 other men and quickly grew ill. When Guerrier's aunt brought her nephew food in jail and noticed that he was suffering from vomiting and diarrhea, she pushed for him to be released so that he could receive medical care. Two days after leaving the jail, Guerrier was dead.
"He was having that diarrhea in a very tight space crowded with other people, so everybody had exposure," Michelle Karshan told the Herald. Karshan works with Alternative Chance, a group that works with Haitian deportees with criminal convictions. "He was fine when he got there."
Advocates warned shortly before deportations resumed that the conditions in Haiti's jails were deplorable and, coupled with ongoing instability in the country, would only get worse. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights warned that detention centers in Haiti were overcrowded, unsanitary, and bound to aide in the spread of the deadly cholera outbreak that had ravaged the country since October of last year. The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti also noted that jails in the country have historically failed to provide incarcerated people with food, instead relying on family members to provide meals. In this case, Guerrier's aunt did just that and tried to no avail to get last minute medical attention for her nephew.
The Miami Herald is reporting that at least one other deportee is now suffering cholera-like symptoms. So far Haiti's cholera epidemic has killed 4,000 people and sickened 200,000 more.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement expects to deport 700 Haitians with criminal convictions this year. Roughly 30,000 have final deportation orders, while 60,000 have applied for TPS.
Ralph Latortue, Haiti's consul general in Miami, told reporters that the instability is overwhelming for the country's residents, and for what's left of its government.
"It's a tough situation for the government of Haiti now because they have so many crises," Latortue told the Herald. When asked about deportations, he added, "It's very difficult for the Haitian government to say, 'No.' We have to comply."