We might be out from underneath the bowels of the Trump administration, but the stench of Donald Trump’s America is still as potent as it ever was—especially for those still being victimized by his policies.
Last month, 40-year-old financial consultant Paul Pierrilus narrowly escaped joining dozens of immigrants who were carted off to countries they either barely knew or fled decades ago as chartered deportation flights continued until the final hours of Trump’s presidency. Pierrilus—who was born to Haitian parents in the French territory of St. Martin, migrated to the U.S. as a child and was raised in New York—was detained when he went to an immigration check-in in Manhattan on Jan. 11 and subsequently granted a last-minute reprieve on Jan. 19, minutes before he was set to board one of the last deportation flights. With Joe Biden having been sworn into the presidency and promising to halt deportations sanctioned under Trump’s immigrant-hating policies during the first 100 days of his administration, Pierrilus and his family thought he was safe. On Tuesday, an ICE agent informed him that he needed to grab his belongings and prepare to be taken into custody. He was deported to Haiti—a country he wasn’t born in and had never been to.
From the Miami Herald:
Pierrilus, 40, arrived in Port-au-Prince Tuesday morning aboard a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation charter flight from Louisiana with 63 other individuals expelled from the United States. He was distraught and in shock, said his lawyer, Nicole Phillips, who spoke with him hours later.
“They knew he was stateless. They knew he didn’t have a Haitian passport,” she said. “It’s our understanding that he did not have travel documents to return to Haiti and yet they deported him there anyway.”
He doesn’t speak Haitian-Creole fluently, advocates said, and he has no family in Haiti, where on Tuesday, he was staying with “a friend of a friend” after being transferred to the offices of the country’s judicial police, where he was taken to a tiny room, photographed and had his fingerprints taken, his lawyer said.
Phillips said he tried to explain his situation to four ICE agents, and at one point attempted to get back on the stairs of the plane.
“Four ICE agents wrestled with him to force him to get off the airplane to stay in the country,” she said. “He kept pleading over and over again, ‘Show me the travel document.’ And nobody did.”
Most likely, ICE refused to show Pierrilus those travel documents because they don’t exist.
According to the Washington Post, Pierrilus was convicted of selling drugs in 2003, and after serving his sentence, an immigration judge ordered him to be deported because ICE said he’d overstayed his visitor visa after entering the U.S. in 1985. ICE said Pierrilus “is an illegally present citizen of Haiti,” and claimed to have travel documents for him but declined to provide them. Bocchit Edmond, the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., said that “his government has no record that any consulate or the embassy had ever provided travel documents to ICE for Pierrilus,” the Post reports. It would have been weird if those documents were provided by the Haitian government, as Pierrilus has never been a citizen of Haiti. The Post also noted that “neither Haiti nor the French government automatically confer citizenship to children born outside its borders.” That is what qualifies Pierrilus as “stateless.”
So for nearly two decades, Pierrilus had been under an order of supervision that allowed him to live and work in the U.S. under the condition that he routinely check-in with federal immigration authorities.
After being detained on Jan. 11, he was granted his reprieve after a “frenzied effort by immigration advocates, his sister, and New York Congressman Mondaire Jones, D-NY, helped him win the stay,” the Herald reports.
According to the Post, a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the deportation suspension. It’s unclear why that happened outside of, well, it’s Texas. It’s even less clear how he ended up in Haiti.
Phillips, who is also legal director for the Haitian Bridge Alliance, an immigration advocacy organization, said the Texas court order does not mandate that ICE deport detainees.
“It remains within ICE’s discretion whether or not to deport people,” she said. “In their hastiness and desire to rid the United States of Black immigrants from Haiti, they are doing everything they can to deport as many Haitians as they can, and Paul was one of them.” She also said that her organization hasn’t given up on getting Pierrilus back to the U.S.
According to the Post, “the Center for Migration Studies of New York estimates about 218,000 people in the United States are stateless or at risk of being so.”