Haiti Quake Survivors Freed from US Immigration Jails, But Only After News Media Shines a Bright Light

Posted on April 2, 2010

0


Quake Survivors Freed From Immigration Jails
By NINA BERNSTEIN

More than three dozen Haitian earthquake survivors were released from Florida immigration jails on Thursday after more than two months in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Many had lost relatives in the Jan. 12 earthquake; some had been pulled from the rubble themselves. In the chaotic days and aftershocks that followed, many had been seeking security, food or treatment at the Port-au-Prince airport when they were waved onto military transports or other planes by United States Marines, only to be detained for lack of visas when they landed.

Lawyers at the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, who had urged their release for weeks, were jubilant as they waited with relatives outside the Broward County Transitional Center, a privately operated jail in Pompano Beach, for the last ones to walk out. Immigration officials said 40 Haitian survivors would be released on orders of supervision by nightfall. This came on the day that The New York Times reported that at least 30 earthquake survivors were being detained.

By February, nearly all had been ordered deported, but deportations have been indefinitely suspended since the earthquake. Advocates said their continued detention was traumatic and legally unjustified.

Allison Kent, a lawyer with the center, said two young women remained in jail — including one originally flown to the United States for hospital care — because they were still in deportation proceedings. A Creole-speaking therapist was to visit them Friday, she said.

Lawyers said the federal government was now reversing a practice adopted after the earthquake, to hold Haitians for at least 90 days after a deportation order before considering them for supervised release. Those released can be returned to Haiti when deportations resume.

Among the first to be freed was Jackson Ulysse, 20, whose request for release described how sounds in the jail made him fear another earthquake and panic that he would not be able to get out. He had been trapped when his family’s apartment building collapsed in the quake, in which many relatives died.

He and his brother, Reagan Ulysse, 25, had been detained together until March 11, when Reagan was abruptly transferred to a distant immigration jail, leaving Jackson not knowing where he was. But by Thursday evening a family friend had picked up Jackson and was driving him to pick up Reagan from the lobby of the Krome Detention Center in Miami.

“That’s what I want — to see my brother, to see that they let him go, I want to hug him,” Jackson said in French in a telephone interview. “I’m very happy, and I’m going to church to thank God.”

The brothers’ uncle, Virgile Ulysse, 69, a United States citizen who will take them in to his home in Norwalk, Conn., was also full of gratitude. “Thank the United States for Jackson and Reagan’s release,” he said in a telephone message.