More than a week after a 9-year-old Haitian boy was separated from his older brother and placed in government custody despite them both having valid visas, he’s been reunited with his family.
“FINALLY GOOD NEWS!! Thanks in large part to your all’s support, ICE finally released Vlad from custody. He is at SFO with close family waiting for a flight back to Haiti,” Francisco Ugarte, an attorney with the San Francisco Public Defenders Office who is familiar with the case, tweeted Thursday, Jan. 28. “Everyone who organized, called, and posted made a huge difference.”
Vladimir Fardin and his brother Christian Laporte, 19, were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Jan. 17 at San Francisco International Airport when trying to enter the country for a trip intended to give Fardin a chance to see Laporte’s life in America.
Laporte had a student visa and Fardin a tourist visa. However, Laporte was missing his I-20 form, which proves he’s enrolled in school full time. CBP also said Fardin was in violation of his tourist visa because he’d previously attended elementary school in the United States.
As a result, Fardin was seized and turned over to ICE custody and Laporte was deported to Mexico — a country where he has no connections — to await a flight home. Fardin was then deemed an unaccompanied immigrant minor without a “legally-acceptable and court-recognized guardian.”
“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,” Ugarte tweeted on Jan. 19.
After days of the boys’ mother, attorneys and advocates being unclear of Fardin’s status, they finally located him and rallied for his release. It was an uphill battle. The family’s attorney, Marc Van Der Hout, told BuzzFeed News he’d tried to get Fardin released even earlier, but the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) said Fardin had to quarantine for 14 days due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Van Der Hout called the logic for his client’s continued detention “absurd,” noting quarantine was only necessary if Fardin – who had never been separated from his family – would be staying in the U.S. and interacting with other children.
“This is a 9-year-old kid who has never been alone a day in his life who is suffering tremendously,” Van Der Hout said. “We just want to get him home to his mother. He’s going through a lot in custody.”
Van Der Hout added he and his team had to persist in going over officials’ heads to secure Fardin’s release.
“What ultimately happened is we had to go up the chain to ORR’s DC office because the local office was insisting on not releasing [Fardin] for 14 days,” Van Der Hout said. “We kept telling them that policy only applies if he was going to be sent to general population in ORR and not if he’s planning on leaving.”
When contacted by BuzzFeed, ORR said they couldn’t comment on specific cases, but tried their best to find suitable placements for immigrant children.
“As you know, by law HHS is required to provide care for UAC who are referred by another federal agency,” an ORR spokesperson said. “Once in our care we work to put them in immediate contact with parents or family members so they may be united with a suitable sponsor as soon as possible.”
Fardin and Laporte’s story went viral on MLK Day. The entire ordeal could have been avoided, attorneys say, if CBP had chosen to release the sibling duo through a process called “deferred inspection” which would have given Laporte time to complete his paperwork.
Instead, Fardin is said to be severely traumatized as a result of being separated from his brother and placed in government custody.
“He was tearful through the entire 70 minutes we spoke,” Amy Cohen, child psychologist and executive director of the nonprofit Every Last One, told BuzzFeed News. “He broke down and at some point sobbed so much he wasn’t able to talk.”