A day after the nation celebrated MLK Day, what was supposed to be an enjoyable trip to the U.S. for two Haitian brothers has turned into a nightmare. Nine-year-old Vladimir Fardin was separated from his older brother Christian Laporte, 19, by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. According to BuzzFeed, Laporte was deported to Mexico Tuesday. Fardin was turned over to ICE to be sent to a government-run shelter, according to an attorney familiar with case.
“Border Patrol and ICE separated the brothers in the middle of the night last night, despite multiple attempts by advocates to stop it. The nine year old year old was sent to a shelter. We don’t know where either is, because they refuse to tell the lawyer or family,” Francisco Ugarte, an immigration attorney in the San Francisco Public Defenders Office, tweeted.
The brothers were detained by CBP at the airport on Sunday, Jan. 17, over a glitch in Laporte’s paperwork. The were kept for two days, despite having valid visas to enter the United States on a trip to visit schools.
Laporte is a student at Diablo Valley College in California’s Bay Area and Fardin wanted to see his big brother’s life in California firsthand. Though Laporte had his student visa, he was missing his I-20 form, which proves he’s enrolled in school full-time. Fardin, who was traveling on a tourist visa, was deemed an unaccompanied minor once their visas were taken away. They have not been allowed to talk to family members, a different attorney for the pair told the San Francisco Chronicle this week.
That attorney, Milli Atkinson, said the issues are small and there were other options to resolving the situation. One of those included releasing the sibling duo through a process called “deferred inspection” that would give Laporte time to complete his paperwork.
“These are really minor technical things. This shouldn’t be a big deal or happening this way,” Atkinson said. “CBP also hasn’t let me talk to them so I don’t even know how they’re doing.”
The mother of the brothers, who lives in Haiti, told the Chronicle she also had not heard from her sons since getting a text from the Laporte on Sunday saying they’d been detained.
“I tried to text him back. I tried to call him. Nobody answered,” Michaelle Pyroll said Monday. “I need to talk to my sons. I don’t know what happened.”
In a statement, CBP said officers at the airport “determined that Fardin had previously attended elementary school in California on a B-1 tourist visa, which violated the terms of that visa, and was intending to resume his schooling.”
However, Atkinson says the actions were unnecessary and will likely leave Fardin with emotional trauma.
“To a 9-year-old, this really is a jail,” Atkinson said. “It’s going to take a while for him to understand what is happening, and like other children who were separated, he may be living in constant fear and anxiety that he is going to lose his parents at any moment. That’s pretty long-lasting even after children get released.”
News of the brothers’ travails came on the same day it was revealed Immigration and Customs Enforcement planned to deport a man to Haiti who has never even been to the island nation. It was also the same day ICE came under fire by critics for a tone-deaf tweet.
According to his family, 40-year-old Paul Pierrilus was set to be placed on a flight to Haiti scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 19, the final full day of the Trump administration. The problem is Pierrilus is not a Haitian citizen and he has never set foot in the Caribbean country, The Guardian reported.
“My brother has never even been to Haiti,” Neomie Pierrilus told The Guardian. “He has the bare minimum of the language, he doesn’t know the culture, he doesn’t know anyone there. So my brother cannot go there.”
While Paul’s parents are Haitian, the financial consultant, who lives in Rockland County, New York, was born in Saint Martin. He migrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 5. His parents and sister all have U.S. citizenship, however, Paul does not. A birth certificate provided by Neomie reveals Paul is not a French citizen either, The Guardian says. Thus he is stateless.
Neomie said her brother was seized on Jan. 11 when he went to the immigration office in Manhattan for what he thought would be a routine visit.
“He went there for the appointment, and while he was there he was detained, and he was informed that they have documents stating that he’s a Haitian citizen,” Neomie said. “We don’t really understand how documents were obtained to say that my brother was a citizen of Haiti.”
Copies of emails provided by Neomie from former Haitian Ambassador Hervé Denis state Paul is not a Haitian citizen and support the family’s claims. At last report, Paul told his family he was being transferred to an ICE holding facility in Alexandria, Louisiana.
After a rallying cry from activists and attorneys in the U.S., as well as Haitian officials, Pierrilus was removed from the flight at the last minute. However, it is unclear what his current status is.
“Sending him to Haiti, first of all, is not legal,” Jozef said. “And with what’s going on in Haiti right now, there is no way they should be deporting people there period, especially him because he is not Haitian, has never been there and has no connections there. So they cannot just drop him at the airport.”
The aforementioned situations are in stark contrast to the sentiment expressed in a tweet from ICE on MLK Day. “Today we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of hope, justice and equality,” the agency wrote.
The irony was not lost on many Twitter users, who bashed the agency for its hypocrisy.
“Y’all CANT be serious ?!! just shut your whole page down,” actress Alesha Renee responded. “You should sit this one out,” Julian Castro replied. “Now on the leaderboard for worst possible person/people to tweet about MLK …” Jemele Hill chimes in. “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” added author Benjamin Dreyer.
“For this agency to tweet something like this is beyond me. ICE has inflicted deep wounds into my community. Separating families, sterilizations, mistreatment… the list goes on. Embrace out Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words today by LIVING out his message,” responded user @LatinWx.
Guerline Jozef is the head of the community group Haitian Bridge Alliance. She called Laport and Fardin’s respective deportation and detainment “outrageous.” She added the separation, along with, Pierrilus’ attempted deportation are among the final examples of the Trump Administration’s intentional racism.
“They have been targeting black communities. They have been targeting black immigrants. So this is the last attempt of destroying lives,” she said. “As we celebrate the life of MLK who has been fighting for justice and on the eve of the inauguration, this cannot happen. This should not be happening.”
Pyroll said she just wants her children to come home safely.
“I haven’t slept or been able to eat in two days,” Pyroll told BuzzFeed News. “I don’t know if they’re being treated well. I don’t know anything. I just want my children to be released. They did nothing wrong.”