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28783: (news) Chamberlain: The Detention of Rev. Dantica (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   MIAMI, July 30 (AP) -- The old man stood at a pay phone inside the
detention center, clad in his government-issue jumpsuit and his
government-issue slip-on shoes. He held the receiver in one hand, his
electronic voice box in the other.
   "M nan prizon," he repeated, in his Creole tongue. "I'm in prison."
   His niece was saying something about a lawyer.
   "We'll get you out," she promised.
   She said it again and again in a kind of reassuring refrain, like the
chorus of a church hymn back home in Haiti.
   "We'll get you out."
   Rev. Joseph Dantica listened to his niece's promises, but he wasn't
quite sure how or why he'd landed in this place at all.
   When he stepped off the plane, he showed the immigration officer his
tourist visa, which didn't expire until 2008. He'd made plenty of trips to
the United States without trouble, had his throat cancer surgery in New
York years before. He often visited his brothers in that state, both
American citizens now. His niece, Edwidge, was an accomplished author with
a home right here in Miami.
   But the customs officer had asked how long he planned to stay, and the
reverend told him the God's honest truth.
   "A group that is causing trouble in Haiti wants to kill me," he said.
   "They burned down my church ...
   "I fear for my life ... "
   He explained that he might need temporary asylum.
   Now here he was, at 81 years old, an "immigrant detainee" locked inside
Miami's Krome Service Processing Center -- wearing this janitorial-like
getup and these laceless shoes. Back home he was a minister, a
schoolmaster, a role model. The Americans were treating him no better than
a common criminal.
   He would make the best of it, of course. Edwidge was pregnant, and he
didn't want to worry her. So he didn't tell his niece that his blood
pressure had spiked, or go into details about his arthritis and prostate
   Besides, Edwidge had hired a lawyer. They were going to get him out.
Scores of others from Haiti had borne this indignity in the pursuit of
sanctuary in America. He, too, could endure.
   "Fow mache pou we," he told his niece. You have to walk to see.
   The troubles that cursed his homeland had stayed at arm's length until
the Sunday morning when United Nations forces moved in.
   It was early when the first armored vehicles arrived. Voices praising
the Lord spilled onto the streets of Bel Air, songs of peace suddenly
infused with the rumble of tanks and the melody of war.
   Sitting high on a hill overlooking Port-au-Prince, the neighborhood was
once a peaceful, even pretty, place dotted with storefronts all the colors
of the rainbow and alive with the noise of children. In recent years,
however, it had become a hub for militants loyal to ousted President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide who blockaded the streets with cars and tires to
keep law enforcers out.
   Rev. Dantica had taught some of these boys-turned-rebels; they knew him
well. Most people knew the man everyone called "Pas," short for Pastor.
   For three decades Pastor had run a church and school in Bel Air called
Eglise Chretienne de la Redemption, Church of Christ of the Redeemer. It
was one of nine he started all across Haiti. Children learned Spanish,
English and French at the school. Computer courses were offered and some
years, when there was money, the school provided free lunches for
neighborhood kids.
   Education, respect and discipline were the values Pastor lived by, his
impetus for escaping village life and the labors of farming to move to the
city and find his calling. When his own parents died, he became family
patriarch to his six younger siblings. And when some of them left for the
United States to build their own lives, he cared for their children until
it was time for them to go, too.
   America wasn't for Pastor, though; he favored sitting out on his front
stoop, a window unto Haiti and all its triumphs and miseries: The fall of
the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. The 1990 election of Aristide followed
by the military coup in 1991 that temporarily deposed him. The 2004
rebellion that ousted Aristide for good. The kidnappings and killings that
   "I hope I don't die now," he told his family after the last rebellion.
He didn't want them risking their lives coming to Haiti to bury him.
   Pastor survived his nation's hardships just as he had his own. He lost
his larynx to throat cancer and could speak only with the aid of a
mechanical box. When he pressed the unit against his throat, it produced a
robotic voice that sometimes drew taunts from people in the neighborhood.
Pastor didn't care; he preached sermons with his voice box.
   In truth, Pastor took most everything in stride. Sometimes he even
referred to himself as "a miracle."
   Until Sunday morning, Oct. 24, 2004, when the tanks rolled in, and the
rat-tat-tat of gunfire interrupted services at Eglise Chretienne de la
   United Nations peacekeepers had decided it was time to wrestle control
of Bel Air back from pro-Aristide militants.
   U.N. troops scrambled atop Pastor's church and began exchanging gunfire
with rebels in an alley below. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Twenty.
Pastor, his son, Maxo, and their friends cowered inside.
   Quiet returned, but blood had been shed -- and the militants wanted
restitution. They demanded that Rev. Dantica and Maxo pay to bury their
dead; Pastor dipped into his teachers' budget. But rumors abounded that
those who helped U.N. troops would receive a handsome reward, and the
rebels believed Dantica or Maxo had been paid for use of the church.
   They issued an ultimatum: Pay more or be killed.
   Maxo fled, and the gang set fire to the church and school. Pastor hid
for days under a neighbor's bed until finally, disguised as a woman, he was
smuggled out of the neighborhood he'd called home for 50 years.
   He and Maxo boarded American Airlines flight 822 to Miami.
   "Have you seen a doctor in the past year? If YES, for What?"
   The intake nurse at Krome marked an X through the "yes" box and next to
it scribbled "Prostate" and "HTN," for hypertension.
   It was Oct. 30, the day after their arrival in the United States. Rev.
Dantica and Maxo had spent the night in a holding room at the airport.
Pastor had given immigration authorities his brother's phone number in New
York. Edwidge was contacted in the middle of the night and had rushed to
Miami International Airport with her husband to retrieve her uncle.
   But the authorities sent Rev. Dantica and Maxo to detention.
   Maxo was being housed in general population, with hundreds of others
awaiting deportation or hearings. Pastor was getting a standard medical
   On the examination form, next to a badly drawn diagram of a person, the
intake nurse drew an arrow pointing to the throat and the words "opening in
neck." More precisely, his tracheotomy opening was 1.5 centimeters in
diameter, from his throat surgery decades earlier.
   The nurse took his blood pressure. 210/81. Dangerously high, especially
for a man his age.
   The Rev. Dantica's overall health? The nurse marked "fair."
   That night, Pastor found himself in a bed in the infirmary on 24-hour
   Sleep was hard. A doctor ordered a 25-milligram dose of atenolol for his
hypertension, and nurses kept coming by to check his blood pressure and jot
down notes.
   Pastor's own medications were confiscated, as required by Krome. Instead
he was prescribed enalapril, 5 milligrams a day, to lower his blood
pressure and 250-milligram doses of naproxen for his arthritis pain.
   By 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 31, with his blood pressure still high, the 24-hour
observation was extended. A low-salt diet was ordered. An EKG scheduled.
Lab tests requested.
   At 11 p.m., a nurse recorded: "Cooperative. Good eye contact. No
aggressive behavior."
   Ira Kurzban, quite literally, wrote the book on immigration law --
"Kurzban's Immigration Law Sourcebook," a staple in the library of many an
immigration attorney. He is a former president of the American Immigration
Lawyers Association, with a client list including Aristide himself.
   On Nov. 1, 2004, Kurzban was working on behalf of a lesser known Haitian
exile. He was trying to get Joseph Dantica out of Krome.
   Dantica's niece had called and explained the situation. It wasn't as if
the reverend had paid a smuggler and hitched a ride in a raft onto the
shores of Miami Beach; he entered the country with a valid visa. He was
elderly, in poor health.
   Why, Kurzban wondered, would immigration want to lock this guy up?
   His theory: Dantica was Haitian.
   Kurzban was all too familiar with the mishmash of policies that can be
applied differently depending upon who's knocking on America's door.
Nowhere is that more apparent than Miami, where Cubans who make it to land
are welcomed with open arms and an almost automatic chance at residency,
while Haitians are kept behind bars.
   Kurzban had long fought for equal treatment of Haitian immigrants.
   As far back as 1980, a federal court judge found that the government had
subjected Haitians to "intentional national origin discrimination." "This
case," the judge said, "involves thousands of black Haitian nationals, the
brutality of their government, and the prejudice of ours."
   Haitians had been routinely denied asylum -- these are economic
refugees, authorities insisted, even after the 1991 coup deposing Aristide.
They'd been forcibly repatriated, without interviews to determine whether
they were at risk of persecution.
   And, in recent years, the government had established policies requiring
the mandatory detention of Haitian immigrants -- despite limited bed space
at immigration detention centers and the indiscriminate release of
thousands of other illegal entrants.
   The change followed the December 2001 arrival of a ship carrying 187
Haitians off the Florida coast. Immigration officials, citing concerns of a
mass exodus, ordered that no Haitian entrant should be paroled without the
approval of headquarters. The exodus never happened, but refugees were kept
locked up even after immigration judges had granted them asylum.
   Those policies, however, typically applied to illegal immigrants.
Dantica had arrived legally -- with a B1/B2 visa admitting him for
business, pleasure or medical treatment. Kurzban figured Customs officers
at the airport could have warned him about overstaying his visa and
instructed him to file an asylum application.
   Even after he was denied admission, Dantica could have been released on
humanitarian grounds. It happens for pregnant women, juveniles, the elderly
and infirm.
   Kurzban called the immigration field office director in charge of
detention to request a humanitarian release for Dantica.
   The answer was no. No parole until Dantica was interviewed by an asylum
officer to determine whether he had a credible fear of returning to Haiti.
   Kurzban handed the case to one of his best lawyers, John Pratt. Get the
man a hearing, he said. And get him out.
   Rev. Dantica took a chair next to his lawyer inside Krome's asylum unit.
A hearing officer was readying to ask Pastor why he had fled Haiti and
believed it too dangerous to return home.
   From a speaker phone on the desk, a Creole interpreter asked Pastor to
move closer so he could be heard more clearly. Rev. Dantica leaned in when
suddenly ...
   "Oh my God," John Pratt thought.
   Pastor was vomiting uncontrollably. Bile covered the desk, his face, the
front of his detention uniform. He'd dropped his voice box, which was
rendered inoperable. Slumped in his chair and barely conscious, Pastor
couldn't communicate.
   Medics arrived, and took Pastor away on a stretcher. Inside the urgent
care unit, medical personnel started an intravenous line, ran three
electrocardiograms to check Pastor's heart and found a replacement voice
box. His abdomen was swollen and tender to the touch. All signs seemed to
point to a bowel obstruction, the staff physician concluded.
   Rev. Dantica was put in leg restraints and placed in an ambulance.
   Out in the lobby, Pratt was on the phone. He called the officer in
charge of Krome and an official at Immigration and Customs Enforcement's
downtown Miami office to request -- once more -- that Dantica receive a
humanitarian release.
   Only hours later did Pratt's cell phone ring.
   The officer on the line explained that Dantica had been sent to a
hospital for observation. Once he was stable, the officer added, Dantica
would be released pending further asylum proceedings. A credible fear
hearing was no longer necessary.
   Edwidge Danticat had been juggling phone calls ever since her uncle's
plane landed.
   The lawyer, Pratt, seemed confident her uncle would get some kind of
parole after his hearing. She passed the time fixing up her guest room.
Pastor would need clothes; all he brought from Haiti was what was on his
back -- a gray, pinstriped blazer smudged with dirt and some tattered old
loafers, along with his briefcase.
   At 9:30 a.m., Pratt called. Pastor was ill.
   Around noon, Pratt called again to report her uncle was being
transported to a hospital for observation. The good news was immigration
had agreed to release him once he was well.
   Into the next morning, Edwidge stayed on the phone, trying to find out
which hospital her uncle was in, what his condition was, when he'd be out.
She learned he was in Ward D of Jackson Memorial Hospital -- the ward that
houses criminals. She called there asking about a visit, and was referred
to immigration.
   Finally, Edwidge gave up on any chance of seeing her uncle. All she
could do was wait to hear that Pastor was better and could be picked up.
   Instead, when her phone rang again, the words she heard were: "Pastor's
   He died alone -- at 8:46 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2004, in the criminal ward of a
strange hospital, a guard outside his door.
   An autopsy cited acute and chronic pancreatitis.
   An investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector
general's office determined it was "highly unlikely" that Krome's decision
to withhold Dantica's medications -- Hydrea and Valium -- caused or
contributed to his pancreatitis.
   Further, the report said, it was unlikely that the enalapril and
naproxen prescribed as replacement drugs contributed to his death.
   "Dantica's death was the result of an illness that likely pre-existed
his entry into the United States. ... There was no evidence of mistreatment
or malfeasance" by Customs and Border Protection or Jackson Memorial
Hospital employees, the report said.
   Edwidge and Pastor's son, Maxo, might be able to live with that
conclusion if another question didn't nag them:
   Why was Rev. Dantica locked up in the first place? Why, when detention
space is tight and terrorism is a priority, was it imperative that an
81-year-old minister in poor health who carried a valid visa be
   "He was old and he was sick, and he had been coming here for so long. He
wasn't able to harm anybody," says Edwidge.
   She recalls how a DHS spokesman, responding to questions after her
uncle's death, referred to the prescription drugs Dantica had brought from
Haiti as "voodoo" medicine.
   "None of us could be singular to them, that's what that says to me. You
can only be an 'alien.' You can only be `a refugee.' You can only be `a
Haitian refugee,'" says Edwidge.
   DHS officials insist that neither race nor national origin influenced
how Dantica was processed. They point out that having a valid visa doesn't
guarantee entry into the United States. Once Dantica indicated he intended
to claim asylum, he was processed as an immigrant rather than a visitor.
   "Upon arrival, if they make statements, comments or claims that change
the purpose of their visit ... then that visa becomes essentially null and
void," said Zachary Mann, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman in
   Dean Boyd, an ICE spokesman in Washington, D.C., added that "factors
such as race, religion, or nationality played absolutely no role in ICE's
handing of Mr. Dantica. It is unfortunate that Mr. Dantica died during the
benefits application process and we understand his family's grief, but
there is no connection between the pre-existing terminal medical condition
he had and the process through which he entered the country."
   Still, immigrant rights' advocates question the sensibility of policies
that lock up a legal visitor searching for temporary safe haven.
   "It's a no-brainer," Kurzban says. "An 81-year-old man with no criminal
record, who's on a voice box, who's on numerous medications -- you don't
keep him in custody. There's the law, and then there's what really goes on,
which is the vast discretion that these guys have. That's where the
discrimination comes in."
   For now, Rev. Dantica's son remains in the United States awaiting an
immigration hearing. He was released on humanitarian parole after his
father's death.
   Rev. Dantica wanted to be buried in Haiti, in the mausoleum with his
parents and wife. But the family feared kidnappers who sometimes steal
corpses in return for ransom.
   Instead, Pastor was buried next to his brother, Edwidge's father, at a
cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y., in a land where he sought shelter, but found
   EDITOR'S NOTE -- This story is based on interviews with Dantica's niece,
son and family attorneys, as well as a review of the 167-page report
completed by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector
General and medical records chronicling Dantica's time at Krome and Jackson
Memorial Hospital.