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6596: Re: What happened to Jackson Joanis? (fwd)
From: Charles Arthur <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Haitians fight deportation with torture defense
By JODY BENJAMIN, Sun-Sentinel
Web-posted: 7:22 a.m. Dec. 1, 2000
As a powerful police captain during three years of dictatorship in Haiti,
Jackson Joanis condoned the killings and brutal beatings of dozens of
students, journalists and others, human rights groups charge.
In 1995, he was convicted in absentia in Haiti for his role in the
murder of businessman Antoine Izmery, an ardent supporter of then-ousted
President Jean Bertrand Aristide.
But that sordid history may not be enough to swiftly boot Joanis out of
the country, as immigration officials vowed to do to him and 13 other
alleged persecutors two weeks ago. His attorney will argue today in Miami
immigration court that Joanis faces torture if he is returned to Haiti and
therefore should be held here for the time being.
"Certainly he could be killed," said immigration attorney Carlo Jean
Joseph, who represents half the group picked up in an INS sweep on Nov. 15
and 16. The newly re-elected Aristide regime would target Joanis, according
to his attorney.
As it develops, the case will mark a key test of the international
Convention Against Torture that the United States signed six years ago. The
convention would theoretically allow Joanis and the others to stay here
because it has a loophole: An individual’s past crimes are no
Undesirables with political ties to ousted regimes have been quick to
recognize and exploit the loop hole, according to the Federation for
American Immigration Reform, a group that favors tightening immigration
"It’s a pattern we’ve noticed," said Jack Martin, the group’s special
projects director. "We’re concerned about it."
Under a controversial 1996 immigration reform law, the INS Immigration
and Naturalization Service has deported thousands of aliens with histories
of minor convictions. Yet the United States’ signature on the international
convention may keep the agency from deporting torturers.
"It is extremely ironic," said immigration attorney Socheat Chea, who
represented a German-born woman facing deportation because of a street
brawl. Mary Anne Gehris won the right to remain in the United States only
after winning a rare nod from the Georgia Board of Pardons.
"The person that has done a lot of bad things to people gets a chance,
while my client, who has pulled a woman’s hair, does not," Chea said. "There
is almost no logic behind it."
If successful, Joanis’ long-shot argument could keep him in the country
— at least until conditions improve in Haiti.
The U.S. government has rejected the option of trying the alleged
persecutors because of concerns about whether it has the authority to do so.
Their crimes were committed before Congress ratified the torture convention.
Some legal experts criticize that strategy. People like Joanis should
be tried here, they say.
"Our obligation isn’t just to get rid of them, but to make sure that
they are brought to justice in a fair process," said Morton Sklar, director
of the World Organization Against Torture.
The first salvo in a battle brewing over the fate of the group picked
up two weeks ago — a Peruvian, an Angolan and a dozen Haitians — will be
fired in immigration court today when Joseph, the attorney for several of
the Haitians, seeks their release on bond.
Joseph argues that the INS improperly rounded up and detained his
clients. He says Joanis’ conviction is unfair because he was not present in
Haiti to defend himself.
"There is a principle here that has been violated," Joseph said. "These
people all applied for asylum and their cases were not yet resolved. INS
acted prematurely. If we let them get away with that, then what is to stop
them from picking up any (alien) without a court order?"
The INS insists it acted properly and will vigorously oppose bond for
Joanis and the six others, said Dan Vara, INS legal counsel. The agency
intends to deport the remaining seven as soon as the immigration court
issues final orders in their cases.
"A person who believes they may be tortured can ask for an order
preventing their removal, but there is a high burden of proof," Vara said.
"We are certain that these people are not eligible."
INS moved all 14 aliens last week to Manatee County Jail in Bradenton
because authorities were worried about their safety at Krome Detention
Center, Vara said.
"There was concern about possible conflicts between the arrested
persecutors and the rest of the INS detainee population," he explained.
Observers said the November INS arrest sweep was unusual, noting that
there have been complaints for years about persecutors from Haiti and other
countries living in the United States.
On Thursday, a Boynton Beach-based advocacy group, International
Educational Missions, sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno asking
that the Justice Department aggressively seek out hundreds of other alleged
torturers thought to be living in the country.
Typically, human rights groups notify the agency that a particular
person is in the United States, even going so far as to gathering
information useful to prosecutors.
"We have complained that it is too easy for people who have committed
torture and other atrocities to come in (to the United States) under the
radar screen," said Reedy Brody, chair of Human Rights Watch, Americas
division. "The laws are like Swiss cheese."
Vara said INS agency heads sent out a directive last March telling
local districts to focus on rooting out torturers. It just so happened that
the INS Miami district had several cases pending, he said.
Joanis, 42, came to South Florida in December 1994 on a tourist visa,
according to his wife, Katy. He lived in a house on the 5800 block of Grant
Street in Hollywood. He worked for a short while as a cab driver before
switching to his cousin’s construction business, she said.
He applied for asylum in 1996.
In September 1995, a Haitian court had convicted Joanis and 13 others
for complicity in the killing of Izmery, the Aristide supporter.
INS prosecutors raised that issue at his asylum hearing. They said the
conviction made Joanis ineligible under U.S. immigration law.
Joanis is listed as an abuser of human rights in a 1994 State
Department report to Congress. The abuses occurred during Joanis’ three-year
tenure as commander of the Anti-Gang and Investigation Unit of the Haitian
police. His position made him an extremely powerful government official.
"Suspects brought in for questioning at the Anti-Gang Unit were
regularly beaten with fists and clubs," according to that report, which was
introduced at the hearing. "If the beating got out of hand, as reportedly
often happened, the victim was finished off and the body dumped."
An immigration judge denied Joanis’ asylum application.
But then his attorney filed to reopen the case under the anti-torture
convention on the grounds that Joanis could be killed if he were sent back
to Haiti. That case is still pending before the Board of Immigration
"My husband filed a claim for asylum because he would be harmed in
Haiti," Katy Joanis said during an interview this week at Joseph’s
Lauderhill office. She said that after Aristide was restored to power, she
persuaded her husband to flee.
Now, if her husband were returned and subsequently tortured or killed,
it would be the fault of the U.S. government, she said. "His life would be
on their hands."
SEE THE HAITI SUPPORT GROUP WEB SITE: http://www.gn.apc.org/haitisupport
The Haiti Support Group - solidarity with the Haitian people's struggle for
justice, participatory democracy and equitable development, since 1992.
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