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Haitian Victims Retraumatized

April 1, 2010

Photo: Marco Dormino / All photos United Nations Development Programme

Earthquake Victims Retraumatized
by U.S. Immigration Service

 “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…” 

Photo: Logan Abassi / UN

I have a feeling that retraumatization is going to be a frequent theme on this forum. I actually had another post in mind to lead with today, but this morning’s New York Times article by Nina Bernstein is too important — and too typical, unfortunately — to wait. Bernstein reports that at least 30 survivors of the recent Haitian earthquake have arrived in the United States only to be locked up in detention centers in Florida:

“Some were pulled from the rubble…Some lost parents, siblings or children. Many were seeking food, safety or medical care at the Port-au-Prince airport when terrifying aftershocks prompted hasty evacuations by military transports, with no time for immigration processing. None have criminal histories.

“But when they landed in the United States without visas, they were taken into custody by immigration authorities and held for deportation, even though deportations to Haiti have been suspended indefinitely since the earthquake. Legal advocates who stumbled on the survivors in February…have tried for weeks to persuade government officials to release them to citizen relatives who are eager to take them in…”

Unknown / UN

“Meanwhile, the detainees have received little or no mental health care for the trauma they suffered…”

I won’t quote any more because you can and should read the article for yourself — and because I can’t stand to. Bernstein is a terrific reporter, and manages to hang onto her objectivity and journalistic cool, but we don’t have to.

School kids are still reciting Emma Lazarus’ inscription for the Statue of Liberty — not just here, but around the world. Does it still mean anything? Like the survivors of torture that this forum is primarily concerned with, if these Haitian refugees don’t fit the definition of “tempest-tossed,” who does?

If there’s any positive side to Bernstein’s article, it’s that she makes clear that there are many advocates, activists, friends, family and volunteers ready to make these refugees from catastrophe welcome, once Immigration and Customs Enforcement gets out of the way.

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