The Girl with the Tonton Heart

Years after the Haitian diaspora, Papa and Baby Doc's children are still wandering

The day before the story was published, Carlo Jean-Joseph, Marilise's immigration attorney at the time, wrote to the INS asking for an investigation of his client's allegations. Marilise's case was added to the other sexual-abuse claims made by women at Krome, and eventually FBI and Justice Department investigators did interview her. Her relationship with Ronald wasn't over, though. "Even after [the sex-abuse allegations] were under investigation," Nadia contends, "he was buying my sister a raincoat; my sister be showing me what the guard be giving -- all this jewelry, nice underwear." Marilise insists she rebuffed the officer's advances from the day she realized he'd been lying about his capacity to get her released; she didn't want to offend him too badly, however, out of fear he might harm her. For example, while being transferred from the hospital back to Krome, Marilise asserts, "He put shackles on my wrists and my [ankles], real tight, and they were hurting," she asserts. "I asked him please could you make them looser, and he said no."

It appeared the authorities were beginning to listen to Marilise. But she was still on a fast track for deportation. Less than a month after she went public, she was on her way to the airport. "When they put me in processing [at Krome] to deport me," she recalls, "another girl at Krome heard my story and she said, “They can't do that to you. Call Cheryl Little.'" Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), is the high-profile Miami immigration attorney whose office was representing, and still represents, several detainees who had made sexual-abuse charges against Krome officers. Like Marilise, all those detainees had been ordered deported, but Little thus far has been able to keep most of them in the United States under the auspices of a new law that makes aliens who cooperate in criminal investigations eligible for a special visa.

In October 2000 Marilise was released from Krome. The immigration service remains committed to deporting her after the federal investigation is completed. However, her FIAC lawyers are optimistic another new law, the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 1998, will come to her rescue: Thousands of Haitian immigrants who have lived in the United States for the past six years or longer now can apply for permanent residency.

Thus for the first time since she boarded that boat captained by the man she calls Pere Lebrun, Marilise is truly free to start putting her life back together. No one, least of all herself, can be sure how much progress she'll make against the formidable obstacles she still faces: no job or skills, three young children, her depression, and her past. Marilise adores her newborn son, but she knows it's too soon for another child. "Get out of jail and get pregnant?" she muses. "That's no life. I want to get a job."

She should have thought of that ten months ago, opines Nadia, whose own daughter is almost as old as Marilise. "She's my sister and I love her," Nadia says with angry affection. "She's a good sister. When she has a dollar it's my dollar; when she has a dime it's my dime. But she's not the same person she used to be. She lose her mind. When she was outside [of jail and detention] she had financial problems. Now she has mental and financial problems. Sometimes I wonder what's going to happen next."

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