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17806: Re: (Hermantin) Miami-Herald-Celebrate freedom for one Haitian teen (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Fri, Jan. 09, 2004

Celebrate freedom for one Haitian teen

After being detained 14 months by the Department of Homeland Security, Rose
Thermitus finally is free. Now 17, Rose arrived from Haiti on the boat that
beached off Key Biscayne in 2002. She was ecstatic when released this week,
and that is worth celebrating.

But it shouldn't have taken so long or been such a struggle for advocates to
get DHS to release her into her cousin's custody. Then there is Ernesto
Joseph, a teenager who arrived on the same boat, who still remains in DHS
custody -- locked up in a motel room 24/7 with only a TV for company. DHS
should free Ernesto, too, and he should be placed with his uncle.

Minors here alone

Keeping teenagers locked up at taxpayer expense isn't what Congress intended
when it approved legislation aimed at reforming how immigration authorities
treated undocumented minors who end up here alone. The intent was to look
out for the best interest of these minors. Unfortunately, that isn't what
DHS detention authorities are geared to do. Instead, they have a record of
subjecting minors in custody to abusive practices.

This is why Congress charged the Office of Refugee Resettlement with looking
after the welfare of unaccompanied immigrant children. This resettlement
agency has the expertise to vet guardians and place minors in the least
restrictive settings until their status is determined. The agency, not DHS,
should have the ultimate say over when and to whom minors are released,
whether they can apply for special juvenile visas while in custody and
exactly who is a minor -- particularly when it comes to assessing age, which
is key to the entire process.

The question of age, for example, is what keeps Ernesto indefinitely
confined to a motel room. Some time after his arrival, after tests and a
review of dental records, DHS decided that he was 18 and detained him with
the adults held at the Krome Detention Center. Later, Ernesto's lawyers
obtained an authenticated birth certificate showing that Ernesto, an orphan,
is 16. Yet that hasn't moved DHS to release him. He still has a ''final
order of removal,'' local DHS spokeswoman Nina Pruneda says, and ''the
investigation into his age is still ongoing.'' Translation: Even though the
Haitian government won't issue Ernesto travel documents, DHS is still trying
to deport him. The Resettlement office should determine Ernesto's age, not
DHS, and he should be freed in the meantime.

Fearing deportation

Rose, moreover, shouldn't have to worry about being deported when she turns
18. She should be able to make her case for a special juvenile immigrant
visa, which is available to minors who have been abandoned, neglected or
abused. DHS shouldn't attempt to block her. Her parents have been presumed
dead since political thugs torched their home in Haiti.

Congress, meanwhile, needs to approve the Unaccompanied Alien Child
Protection Act to ensure that other children avoid what Ernesto and Rose
have experienced under DHS care.

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