In the final hours of the Trump presidency, immigration officials detained a nine year-old Haitian boy with a valid US visa, separated him from his elder brother and incarcerated him, according to lawyers and activists.
Vladimir Fardin arrived in San Francisco from Haiti on Sunday, on a tourist visa. He was travelling with his 19-year-old brother, Christian Laporte, who has been studying in Diablo Valley College outside San Francisco, and had a valid student’s visa, according to lawyers acting for him.
The two boys had been on a Christmas vacation with their mother in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, and Vladimir was flying back to California with Christian to spend some time with his elder brother and their godmother, who acts as their guardian in the US.
They were detained by border officials at San Francisco airport and held for two days without being allowed to contact family, lawyers or community organisations. On Tuesday morning, they were separated.
Nine-year old Vladimir was sent to a refugee resettlement facility in southern California as an unaccompanied minor, and Christian was deported to Mexico, apparently because that was where their connecting flight from Santo Domingo was from.
As of Tuesday evening, Vladimir had not been allowed to contact, or be contacted by, his family or any support groups.
“We are extremely worried because Vladimir has never spent time alone,” Guerline Jozef, the head of the Haitian Bridge Alliance community group, said. “He is nine years old, and his older brother has been extremely protective of him and taking care of him. So, this is beyond cruel.”
The Trump administration carried out a policy of separating migrant children from their families, and there are still hundreds of children whose parents have not been found. What makes Vladimir Fardin’s case distinctive is that he was reportedly travelling on a valid visa, with a family member also with a valid visa. The outgoing administration also has a record of targeting black migrants and asylum seekers and deporting them to countries irrespective of the threat to their safety posed by deportation.
A deportation flight left Louisiana on Tuesday morning to Haiti carrying 25 people, including five children under the age of five. However, three would-be deportees were pulled off the flight at the last moment, including Paul Pierrilus, a 40-year-old financial consultant who is not Haitian and has never been to Haiti.
He had been detained on 11 January, after 35 years in the US and would have been sent to a nation in the throes of intense political violence and lawlessness, if not for the eleventh-hour intervention of lawyers, activists and his congressman from Rockland County, New York, Mondaire Jones.
“My team laboured into the wee hours of the morning, not taking no for an answer,” Jones told the Guardian. “At about 2am, when we were demanding from DHS [Department of Homeland Security] to see an approved travel document, which DHS could not produce for Paul, right before finally the handcuffs were taken off and he was allowed to stay in the United States.”
The Democratic congressman said he had been trying to find out what would happen to Pierrilus now, but had been told officials from immigration and customs enforcement agency (Ice) were unavailable to talk to him, for reasons not specified.
“I certainly expect a report from them as to how it came to be that a man from my district, who has been an upstanding member of our community and who has never even been to Haiti, was going to be unconstitutionally deported to that place,” Jones said.
“This is crazy. It represents the absolute worst of an inhumane racist administration, in the context of immigration.”