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17995: (hermantin)Sunsentinel-Teen Haitian orphans release order turns out to be an e- (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
Teen Haitian orphan’s release order turns out to be an e-mail error
By Tanya Weinberg
Posted January 17 2004
Immigrant advocates, the Haitian community, and members of the U.S. Congress
have fought for Ernso "Ernesto" Joseph's release for months. But the
teenaged Haitian refugee's freedom Friday appeared the result of a dropped
word in an e-mail.
Friday morning, Department of Homeland Security officials contacted Rep.
Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, to advise him that Joseph, an orphan who claims no
family in Haiti, would be released, not deported. According to Meek, David
Venturella, a high-ranking immigration official told him the department had
decided to treat Joseph as a minor and to release him. Joseph would then be
eligible for a visa for abandoned, abused and neglected children.
Hours later Meek's aide, Sabrina Nawalrai, received an e-mail from an
official in the detention and removal branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, saying it was all a mistake.
"Unfortunately, we have just discovered that there was a miscommunication
and the decision was made to NOT treat him as a juvenile but instead treat
him as an adult. As such, he will be moved to Krome and remain in detention.
" reads the e-mail, forwarded to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Obviously
we are deeply embarrassed about this mixup and apologize profusely for any
misunderstanding that occurred."
Nawalrai said she was told that when a DHS legal adviser e-mailed department
officials dealing with Joseph's case, he inadvertently left out the word
"not" when writing that the decision was to treat Joseph as a child.
By the time the e-mail arrived, Joseph had already called his uncle in to
tell him he would be released from a locked hotel room in Miami where he has
been confined since Oct. 2.
"He said, `I'm happy,'" said Adelphin Pierre, his uncle. "Later they take
him to Krome, and when he called me again I can hear the tone in his voice
By then immigration officials had discovered their mistake and tried to stop
Joseph arrived in Miami on Oct. 29, 2002, in a landing of more than 200
Haitian refugees that was captured on national TV. He was detained until
June when he received a humanitarian release, then was detained again on
Oct. 2 after he lost his appeal for political asylum.
Pierre, Meek and the pro-bono legal team, who have been fighting for months
to prove that Joseph is a minor, were outraged at the flip-flop. Meek fired
off an angry e-mail to members of South Florida's Haitian community on
Friday urging them to protest the decision to keep him detained and tried in
vain to get DHS officials back on the phone.
"All of them were unavailable to receive calls on all levels," Meek said.
Homeland Security officials called a last-minute news conference in Miami.
John Mata, who heads the Miami detention and removal office, read a prepared
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has determined that in light of
the continuing need to resolve conflicting statements made by Mr. Joseph, it
is in the best interest to release him to the custody of his uncle, until
these conflicts can be resolved. We believe that this course of action is
the most humane option at this point until the facts can be clarified," he
Mata called the decision "a goodwill measure," based partly on the fact that
Joseph had reported to immigration offices for deportation Oct. 2.
Joseph's legal team at the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center has been
arguing for such a good-will gesture for 21/2 months. The center says the
legal staff has traveled to Haiti twice and spent thousands of hours on the
case, collecting evidence of Joseph's minor age.
Garrison Courtney, a Washington spokesman for Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, said the agency still has concerns with some of the documents,
and that Joseph had given three birth dates in open court that would make
him older than 18.
He also denied that the agency had flip-flopped. Meek's office was the
source of the misunderstanding when it concluded that Joseph would not be
released, he said.
"I think that was just confusion on their part," Courtney said. "He was
planned to be released all day; it's just that it was under what
Meek called Homeland Security a "very secretive organization" that was
abusing its authority.
"They haven't been playing fairly or playing in a way that would even raise
the trust level," he said. "Something's not clean in the milk."
Tanya Weinberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-810-5029.
Copyright © 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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