CNA Staff, Jun 25, 2020 / 11:48 am (CNA).- Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski has called for a moratorium on the United States’ deportation of Haitians during the coronavirus pandemic, warning that Haiti’s healthcare system is not prepared to manage a widespread coronavirus outbreak.
“An ongoing surge of infection could destroy an already weakened economy and exacerbate political instability,” Wenski wrote in a June 19 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“Haiti’s health system’s capacity to respond to COVID-19 cases is already at its limit, making the possible influx of new cases especially dangerous. I urge you to stop the deportations of individuals to Haiti at this time during COVID-19 in the interest of public health and stability in Haiti.”
Haitian health experts estimate that the country, with a population of 11 million, has only 39 physicians to manage COVID-19, 124 ICU beds and the capacity to ventilate 62 people, Wenski said.
Wenski himself has ministered to the Haitian population in Miami and in Haiti— Miami is home to hundreds of thousands of Haitian immigrants and people of Haitian descent. He said a larger COVID-19 outbreak in Haiti could push more Haitians to leave their country to seek work or opportunities elsewhere.
“Because of their ongoing ties to Haiti, including supporting relatives through remittances, they do not want to see Haiti further destabilized by a deportation policy that threatens to undermine the public health and safety of the people of Haiti,” Wenski continued.
In addition, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities have in many areas become sites for COVID-19 outbreaks, as testing for the disease still is not widespread in many facilities.
“I again respectfully request that you halt deportations during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent further destabilization in Haiti, and to prevent massive loss of lives,” Wenski said.
A group of some 300 activists and celebrities sent a similar letter to Pompeo on June 19.
As of June 24, Haiti has 5,429 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 92 people have died of the disease, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The United States had designated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) on Haiti during 2010, in response to the massive earthquake that led many Haitians to flee their country.
The earthquake killed 200,000 people and left one million homeless. At that time, the Department of Homeland Security temporarily halted deportations to Haiti due to the danger of sending Haitians back to the decimated country.
A decade after the quake, tens of thousands are still living in tent camps, many without running water or means of sanitation.
Hurricane Matthew’s landfall in Haiti caused tremendous damage in October 2016, with the Category 4 storm putting more than 1.4 million people in need of emergency aid.
The Trump administration decided not to renew the Temporary Protected Status designation for Haiti in November 2017. In April 2019, however, a federal court ruled that Haiti’s TPS status would remain in effect pending further court order. As of 2018, there were at least 46,000 Haitians in the U.S. who qualified for the TPS program.
Violent protests have erupted intermittently in the country since July 2018, with protesters calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, who has been accused of mismanaging billions in aid given to the country after Hurricane Matthew.
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