Haitian deportation process is unfair
Valentine's Day has just passed, and a single tear rolls down Claudine Magloire's perfect left cheek. She balls up tight, knees to chin, on a fluffy beige couch then gazes across her Pompano Beach townhouse at a framed watercolor. Two teddy bears, two swallows, and two plump red hearts deliver a message. To remember you, it reads in French. Souvenir toi.
Of the artist, 34-year-old Wildrick Guerrier, she sobs: "He's gone. He went to the bathroom. There was one cough... Then he was dead... The U.S. government killed him."
Wildrick was Claudine's lover and partner. He died suddenly last month — possibly of cholera — in Haiti after the Obama administration deported him and 26 other Haitian-Americans to their earthquake-wracked homeland. Such deportations had been suspended after the January 12, 2010, catastrophe, but this past December, agents swept up more than 350 others, about 100 from Florida, and delivered them to internment camps in a remote part of Louisiana. They await the dreaded trip back to their ruined island and, perhaps, the same painful end.
After Guerrier's death, newspaper stories were printed and mostly forgotten. Even the first black President brushed aside concerns about the world's first black republic. Neither he nor his administration is investigating. And, citing "privacy policies," his people refuse to release the names of those in custody. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez won't even say whether deportations have been suspended, a fact communicated to activists two weeks ago. "There haven't been any additional removals, and removals have not been suspended," she told me last week. Huh?
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There's outrage in all this. Since when does the government have the right to secretly pick up U.S. residents and ship them to their deaths — even if they have criminal records? Indeed at least one of those sent to Haiti, Lyglenson Lemorin, has never been convicted of anything.
But there's also hyperbole in activists' responses. "No one should be deported to Haiti now," said Randy McGrorty, chief executive of Catholic Charities Legal Services Miami at a press conference earlier this month, "no matter what crime they committed." No one cared to ask if American taxpayers should feed and clothe noncitizen rapists and killers.
So I've spent the last couple weeks investigating Guerrier and another Miamian awaiting deportation in Louisiana, Elliott Longchamps. A close look at their lives and criminal records yields the following: bureaucratic ineptitude, government hypocrisy, and heinous violence. Longchamps, who's still in Louisiana, deserves the boot. Wildrick Guerrier didn't. And with the government unreasonably withholding names, it's hard to tell how many innocents like Guerrier are awaiting deportation.
The tragic love story of Claudine and Wildrick is this tale's beginning. She's a kind, professional woman who was born in Cap-Haitïen and moved to Fort Pierce with her family as an 8-year-old. A cheerleader, track star, and soccer player, she graduated from Fort Pierce Central High and became a single mom at age 18. Her boyfriend at the time disappeared, but she found work as an AT&T telemarketer in Fort Lauderdale and raised her playful son, Will.
It was off Sunrise Boulevard that she met Wildrick. He had come to the United States from Port-de-Paix as a 16-year-old, then played soccer at Edison Senior High in Miami. Skinny and mellow, he lived in Miami Shores across the street from Barry University with his mom, Chantal, who gave birth to two sons after arriving. Wildrick helped raise them until taking a job driving a forklift at Sun-Sentinel in Deerfield Beach in 1998.
Wildrick's cousin Mona lived near Claudine. One day, he piloted a black Nissan down their street and stopped to ask Claudine's name. They chatted. Soon he fell in love — not with her, but with then four-year-old Will.
"They'd play soccer and football, roll around a lot," Claudine remembers. "They'd go everywhere together. Wildrick was a real father figure to him." The then 22-year-old cycled through jobs at KFC and in a metals factory, often working nights. Sometimes he'd care for Will during the day, feeding him ice cream and candy. On weekends, Claudine would leave the boy with an aunt and visit Haitian nightclubs in Miami or Hallandale. She'd go with groups of four, five, or six people including Wildrick. "He always had a girlfriend," Claudine recalls. "We were like brother and sister."
What Claudine, now a mortgage loan specialist for Bank of America, didn't know back then was that Wildrick had trouble with the law. It started small, Broward County records show. He was busted in 1997 for driving without a license. He had a learner's permit but received a ticket. Three years later, he was nailed for possession of narcotics after cops found a film canister with "particles of cocaine" on Andrews Avenue, where he hung out, according to a police report. Those charges were dismissed.
"He never did drugs, but every time he hung out with the boys, he got in trouble," Claudine says. "I tried to get him away from them... and mostly I did."
His problems with the law escalated in 2002, when he was stopped by a Fort Lauderdale police officer. Identified in records as R. Fernandez, the cop claimed Wildrick had suddenly pulled his car to the side of NW Ninth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. After the officer flashed his lights and siren, Wildrick attempted to run, and the two scuffled. Wildrick kicked the cop in the groin. Fernandez kicked him back, then arrested him after help arrived. In a deposition, Fernandez acknowledged he had not been injured. "I went home and took some painkiller and that was it," he said. Wildrick spent four months in jail.
Claudine helped him deal with the case. She hired a lawyer — and her efforts drew the couple together. Soon they were living together, first in Fort Lauderdale, then in the tidy Pompano place where Claudine and Will now live.
That essentially is what caused Wildrick to be thrown out of the country. He violated probation several times, once because he was walking a dog across the street from their townhouse. Another time, a probation officer found a folding knife in his house. Then Hallandale cops found him holding a semiautomatic pistol in his lap. He claimed it belonged to a friend. Finally, in 2009, he was busted for a DUI, and that was it. He was sentenced to nine months and remained behind bars until the government sent him to his death in Haiti.
"I am shocked at this," says Michael Gottlieb, the attorney who represented him. "He is a soft-spoken, nice guy. This wasn't someone who would attack or hurt anyone. It's very sad."
Elliott Longchamps's case is quite different. Activists from Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC) cite him as a guy who shouldn't be deported. They are wrong. A review of his criminal record and a conversation with his wife indicate this is someone who shouldn't be allowed on our shores.
Once a tall string bean of a man — six feet and 140 pounds — he has a criminal record that stretches back to 1980, when he was convicted of felony burglary after stealing $200 worth of jewelry from two women in Miami. He was accused but not convicted of burglary and robbery in the 1980s.
Then in 1990, he married a purchasing agent from Jackson Memorial Hospital named Kena Gordon. Three years later, she filed for divorce. Her claim: Longchamps had beat her bloody 15 to 20 times during their marriage. "Busted lips, bleeding gums," she told prosecutors in a deposition. But that was only the beginning. One night in 1992, she said, "he choked me nearly to death and tore my clothes off... He locked me in the room so that no one would hear."
Later, she said, he stalked her with a gun. Once, she fired twice at him when he followed her to a home in Brownsville. In 1992, he was convicted of assault and trespassing. And three years later, he was nailed for stalking.
Claims against Longchamps continued. In 1999, he was acquitted by a jury of sexual battery. In 2004, he married Mere Meregne Bien-Aime, an emotional, sophisticated-looking woman who fell hard for him. She had a daughter from a prior marriage. He had two kids, all of whom were grown.
The next year, cops arrived at their Aventura home and dragged Longchamps, who had bulked up to 200 pounds, to jail. A police report claims he had "punched his wife in the left eye, causing a bruise and blood to form in the eye."
Mere Longchamps dropped the charges. And today, she begs the government to free her husband from the Louisiana jail where he is being held. She argues that he is a changed man.
"I don't have a way to talk to my husband," she sobbed at a press conference held by FIAC earlier this month. "I miss him so much it is hurting. Please do something to give us a chance so we can be with my husband."
Almost as weird as that reaction from a woman who had apparently been beat was FIAC Executive Director Cheryl Little's. "This is not a dangerous criminal," she said.
When I asked about his court record, Little became confused for a moment. "I don't have the file right now," she said. "But I can tell you this much: This is not a serious offender. He was sentenced to 18 months." Then she continued: "Why is it so urgent for the U.S. to deport Haitians when Haiti remains in ruin? It makes no sense for either country... This is death by deportation."
In that last comment, she might be right. Before his death, Wildrick Guerrier joined 25 other detainees in a hunger strike. In a letter, they complained they "were languishing in a prison... with no definitive answers concerning [their] situation," according to a letter signed by all the strikers. "Phone calls are $25 for 15 minutes, and visitation is nearly impossible due to the distance being that we are all from Florida."
The hunger strike lasted six days. It ended just two days before the 27 Haitians were deported. Upon their arrival, all were held in a Haitian jail, where they drank water from a filthy barrel. Cholera is a waterborne disease.
Soon after his arrival, two of Wildrick's aunts flew to Haiti to care for him. Authorities realized he was sick and released him. He was quickly taken to a doctor, who administered an IV, Claudia remembers. A week or so after his deportation, he died — ingloriously — on a toilet. So far, at least, no autopsy has been done.
The U.S. government has been mum about Guerrier's death. No apologies. No investigation. Barbara Gonzalez of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wouldn't comment on the matter except to regurgitate a written statement: "ICE is resuming the removal of criminal aliens in coordination with the government of Haiti and consistent with our domestic immigration enforcement priorities. ICE is legally required to repatriate criminal aliens to their country of origin or release them into U.S. communities if their repatriation is not reasonably foreseeable."
This kind of stonewalling is wrong. Contrary to what activists say, the United States can and should deport real criminals who aren't American citizens back to Haiti — whether or not an earthquake shook the island. But more consideration should be given to the nature of their crimes.
And the U.S. government should be more open about those whom it imprisons. Isn't that the very basis of our democracy?
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