Haitian Asylum Seeker A Free Man After Two Years In ICE Custody
His first stop? Church.
Haitian asylum seeker Ansly Damus was released from ICE detention after two years of incarceration.
"I'm free and happy," Damus said as he walked out of the Ohio facility, according to the Cleveland Scene. "I see the sun!"
Damus’ ordeal started in 2014 when he criticized a politician while teaching an ethics class in his native Haiti, according to HuffPost. His comments angered a gang who was loyal to the official, and he began to fear for his safety. He went to Brazil but left after 18 months because of discrimination.
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“They set my motorcycle on fire and threatened to kill me,” Damus said. “Fearing for my life, I fled Haiti 10 days later, leaving behind my wife, two young children, parents and siblings. I was in Brazil for 18 months, living first at a refugee camp, and later in a shared, rented room. I found work in construction but faced discrimination. I was told I was an animal, that people like me were flooding the country to steal jobs. There was no life for me there, but I was afraid to go back to Haiti.”
Believing he would be safer in the U.S., the educator fled to the California border, where he was captured by ICE in October 2016. The majority of Damus’ incarceration was spent in a windowless cell at an Ohio county jail where he was not allowed outside for recreation. A judge granted him asylum twice, but he was never released because the federal government kept appealing the decision.
Damus’ ordeal drew extensive support, including from Cleveland couple Gary Benjamin and Melody Hart, who agreed to house and sponsor him during his immigration court proceedings. The couple bused a group of allies to Cleveland to support Damus during a hearing on Wednesday.
Damus was expected to remain in custody until the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit on his behalf to secure his freedom, making his sudden release a surprise to everyone.
“There never was any reason to imprison him, but we’re delighted he’s being released now,” David Hausman, an ACLU attorney who represented Damus, told HuffPost. “It’s a wonderful moment ... but it’s also just awful what he’s been put through, and there’s no conceivable justification for it.”
Damus isn't a completely free man yet. Under the terms of his parole, he must wear an ankle bracelet and stay with his sponsors.
ICE has not commented on the case. The only explanation provided in arguing against the asylum seeker's release was to claim Damus is a flight risk without a connection to the community.
Thanks to Benjamin and Hart, Damus now has a community connection and plans to strengthen that bond with his first act as a paroled man.
"I want to go to church and thank God,” he said.
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