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#177: Man deported by mistake dies of heart attack (fwd)


Published Thursday, July 15, 1999, in the Miami Herald 

Man deported by mistake dies of heart attack

By YVES COLON Herald Staff Writer 

Thomas Sylvain, the U.S.-born young man who was mistakenly deported to
Haiti for several months before immigration officials brought him home,
died of cardiac arrest Wednesday at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
He was unable to recover from the serious deterioration of his
health that occurred during his months in Haiti. Since returning
two months ago, he had been on life support in Jackson's
critical care ward.Doctors here have not been able to pinpoint exactly
the cause of his illness, but physicians at a private hospital in Haiti
had diagnosed him with AIDS.''They couldn't bring him back,'' said
Sylvain's younger brother, Andy. ''His blood pressure dropped and they
couldn't do anything more.''Sylvain was 20 years old.

Their father, Andre Sylvain, blames the U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service for his son's death.''Please let everybody know
that INS killed my son, the INS killed my son,'' Andre Sylvain repeated,
sobbing. ''I don't know what to do seeing him lying there.''

Deadly mistake 

Marleine Bastien, a Haitian-American social worker who tried to help
Sylvain and his family, said, ''I'm angry and frustrated and sad . . . I
strongly believe if he was not deported to Haiti, he would still be
alive today.''When Andre Sylvain and his son last saw each other before
his deportation,Thomas Sylvain was in a Miami-Dade County jail on drug
charges, and he seemed healthy. He was later taken to the Krome
immigrant detention center before being deported to Haiti in late
January.He was sent to Haiti under a 1996 law that requires the
deportation of ex-convicts who are not U.S. citizens, even though
Sylvain insisted he was a citizen. His health declined rapidly while he
was in Port-au-Prince.Michael Gilooly, an INS spokesman in the agency's
eastern office, would not comment on the father's charges. ''It's not
the time nor the place to discuss those issues,'' he said.
He would only say that ''a critical illness or the passing away of any
human being is always a tragedy and, of course, devastating to family
and friends. Obviously,our condolences go out to his family members and
close friends.''

A case against INS 

JoNel Newman of the Florida Justice Institute is trying to help the
family prepare a case against INS, requesting Sylvain's files from the
agency. This week, the organization, along with the Florida Immigrant
Advocacy Center, filed an appeal with the U.S. Attorney General's office
regarding certain documents INS has withheld from Sylvain's file.
''The family is entitled to review those files,'' she said.
So far, she said, medical records from files she has obtained from the
Miami-Dade County Jail and Krome show no signs of serious illness before
Sylvain was sent to Haiti. The picture in his travel document shows what
looked like a normal, healthy person, Newman said.''The entire history
of this case has just been a terrible tragedy,'' Newman said.
''Tragic is not a sufficient word. It's profoundly sad.''Noting that
repatriated Haitians sometimes lose their lives under various
circumstances, she said, ''The irony is that the United States had no
jurisdiction over this man whatsoever.''INS officials said Sylvain was
deported based on claims he made that he was a Haitian citizen while in
Miami-Dade County Jail and at Krome. He also swore
under oath that he was a Haitian citizen before an immigration judge,
INS said.His birth certificate and his U.S. passports had been altered,
they contended.'I am a U.S. citizen' Sylvain, however, had asserted on
several occasions before his deportation that he was a U.S. citizen. He
wrote several notes to fellow inmates that began, ''I am
a U.S. citizen,'' then signed them, ''Thomas Sylvain, American.'' He
also told an attorney, who says she told INS.Following a story in The
Herald about the deportation, members of Congress and
activists prodded INS to do an investigation. The agency finally
concluded that he was a citizen and brought him back to Miami on May 7.
It continues to investigate the circumstances that led to his
deportation.Sylvain suffered a heart attack on the way to Jackson from
the airport.His condition improved slightly when he first got to
Jackson. The day after he arrived, he signed papers giving doctors
permission to operate on him. He playfully wrestled with brother Andy on
one occasion. But his condition soon began to deteriorate. He was on and
off life support, and had been unresponsive for the past month.

As he had done every day, Andre Sylvain said he got to the hospital
early Wednesday to see his son and keep him company. That morning, he
told him to get well, and that he was praying for him. He had just
returned home around 6 p.m. when the hospital called and asked him to
return. It was already too late.''He looks like he's sleeping, just
lying there,'' Andre Sylvain said.

Family's grief 

Andy Sylvain, though, knew his brother would not get to see his children
grow up,especially 15-month-old Tomesha, whose picture he carried in his
wallet while in Haiti. Sylvain had written her several letters,
according to the records Newman received from the INS.

Andy said he held little hope. ''I knew something like that was going to
happen,'' he said.The family intends to take Sylvain's body to New York
for burial.Said Bastien: ''I hope his death sends a strong message to
all those involved that changes have to be made in the system. I hope
his death is not in vain.''