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U.S. resumes deportations to quake-ravaged Haiti

MIAMI (Reuters) - The United States resumed the deportation of Haitians on Thursday for the first time since the devastating earthquake that struck the poor Caribbean nation last year.

A Haitian walks next to graffiti on the fence of the national palace in Port-au-Prince, January 20, 2011. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said 27 Haitian nationals with criminal records in the United States had been returned to their homeland.

They were the first of about 700 Haitians classified as “criminal aliens” who have been targeted for removal to the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country this year, Gonzalez said in an email response to Reuters.

“These are the first removals since they were suspended last year,” Gonzalez said, confirming the end of a moratorium on such deportations declared immediately after the January 12, 2010 quake.

“All of those removed were men, who had been previously convicted of a crime in the U.S.,” she said.

She announced earlier that the removals were consistent with a policy of removing Haitians in the United States who pose “a threat to public safety.”

Gonzalez said those deported included Lyglenson Lemorin, a 35-year-old legal U.S. resident, who was acquitted of all charges in Miami’s so-called Liberty City Seven terrorism-conspiracy case in December 2007.

The Obama administration has been quietly moving since late last year to resume deportations of Haitians.

The renewal comes as Haiti is still recovering from the crippling earthquake and grappling with a dispute over presidential election results from November, as well as a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 4,000 people.

Immigration officials have said previously that they will only deport Haitians who have been convicted of crimes and finished serving their sentences, as part of this year’s resumption of forced removals from the United States.

Other Haitians, including non-criminals and those granted a special immigration classification known as Temporary Protected Status, are unlikely to face removal anytime soon, according to one law enforcement source familiar with immigration policy.

Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Chris Wilson