Edwidge Danticat on Her Family’s Immigration Detention Ordeals
In addition to those charged with or convicted of crimes, the United States also incarcerates some 300,000 men, women, and children each year under the auspices of immigration detention. Edwidge Danticat wrote in last week’s New Yorker about her cousin Maxo, who died in the recent Haitian earthquake. Maxo had spent some time in immigration detention in the United States:
His time in detention in the United States had sensitized him to prison conditions and to the lack of prisoners’ rights in Haiti. He often called asking for money to buy food, which he then took to the national penitentiary.
Maxo had wound up in detention after coming to the U.S. with his elderly father — Danticat’s uncle, Joseph Dantica, a Baptist minister in Port-au-Prince — who was seeking temporary asylum from gang threats. As Danticat recounted in her memoir, Brother, I’m Dying (Knopf, 2007), Joseph Dantica never made it back to Haiti. From the New York Times review:
When Dantica fled Haiti in 2004, after a battle between United Nations peacekeepers and chimères — gang members — destroyed his church and put his life in jeopardy, he was 81, with high blood pressure and heart problems, and yet for 30 years had resisted his family’s pleas to emigrate to the States. He intended to return and rebuild his church as soon as the fighting stopped. But to the Department of Homeland Security officers who examined him in Miami, his plea for temporary asylum meant he was simply another unlucky Haitian determined to slip through their fingers. When he collapsed during his “credible fear” interview and began vomiting, the medic on duty announced, “He’s faking.” That refusal of treatment cost him his life: he died in a Florida hospital, probably in shackles, the following day.