Despite hurricane, no change to plans for deportations to Haiti

Kate Morrissey Contact Reporter

The Department of Homeland Security has not altered its plans to resume deporting Haitians to their troubled island nation, despite the most powerful hurricane in 52 years hitting there on Tuesday.

While the extent of the damage is still being assessed, initial reports have indicated that the hurricane affected infrastructure, agriculture and imminent elections, three concerns that were already paramount for those opposed to resuming deportations.

“I think in terms of magnitude, I believe this is one of the most severe humanitarian crises that will have affected Haiti since the earthquake of 2010,” said Mourad Wahba, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Haiti, by telephone.

» Previously: Hurricane hits with deportations already under scrutiny

The decision to resume deportations has been of particular interest in San Diego, the first U.S. stop for thousands of Haitians who are fleeing Brazil, their temporary home since the earthquake.

Tijuana killings rise in a city haunted by violence of years past

The Department of Homeland Security announced last month that Haitians would become eligible for deportation, after several years in which they were granted temporary humanitarian entry to the U.S. following the 2010 earthquake that destroyed the country's capital, Port-au-Prince.

The agency told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Wednesday that it has not changed course as a result of the storm.

“No further announcements have been made at this time,” said Marsha Catron, press secretary for the department. “DHS is monitoring Hurricane Matthew and will assess its impact on current policies as appropriate.”

The powerful, category 4 Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti on Tuesday at about 7 a.m. with wind gusts as fast as 145 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Relief teams on the scene reported flooding, overflowing rivers and washed-out bridges via Twitter.

Wahba said a bridge that serves as the major thoroughfare between Port-au-Prince and the southern region — believed to have sustained the most damage — was destroyed.

The number of casualties has not yet been determined as communication with the most heavily affected areas has been difficult, Wahba said. Before the hurricane’s landfall, local news organizations had reported concern for the safety of the thousands still living in tent camps following the 2010 earthquake.

According to 2016 data from the CIA, more than 62,000 Haitians are still living in the camps.

The Coordination Nationale de la Sécurité Alimentaire, a Haitian organization that monitors food insecurity, said prior to Hurricane Matthew’s arrival that agricultural improvements with the lessening of the drought were at risk this fall if a hurricane hit the island.

Now that Hurricane Matthew has struck, the extent of the agricultural damage is not yet clear. Wahba said the country will be assessing damages over the next couple of days, but he has heard reports of entire crops of plantain trees, which are in season, being wiped out.

The Conseil Electoral Provisoire, the Haitian government entity that is responsible for elections, announced on its Twitter account that the Oct. 9 presidential elections would be postponed. The new date will be announced in a few days, the tweet said in French. Haiti has an interim president after evidence of fraud surfaced in its previous presidential elections in 2015.

Uncertain political conditions are one condition advocates have cited in arguing it’s too soon to return residents to Haiti.

The Haitian weather service warned Wednesday in a bulletin that, although the red alert for Hurricane Matthew had been lifted as it moved toward the U.S., the country was still at risk for flooding and landslides.

The U.S. Navy is sending three ships to provide aid. The U.S. Agency for International Development announced on Wednesday an additional $1 million in humanitarian assistance will go to the island nation.