Not Sure How Jailing 9-Year-Old With US Visa Makes Us Any Safer, But Border Patrol Did It
In the final days of the Trump administration, the machinery of immigration cruelty kept grinding right along, because even if a new administration was on the way, there was still time to separate some families. Like for instance two Haitian brothers, Christian Laporte, 19, and Vladimir Fardin, 9, who arrived at San Francisco International Airport on Sunday. Both had valid US visas, but they were nonetheless held for 24 hours with no ability to contact their family or their lawyer, while US Customs and Border Protection agents questioned them separately. Yes, of course CBP questioned a nine-year-old without an adult present. This is how America has worked for four years. And Donald Trump's chief immigration asshole, Stephen Miller, doesn't see any reason for that to change:
Today, @POTUS pledged to be a president for all Americans. It’s unclear how all Americans are served by opening tra… https://t.co/xWjTs3pt1N— Stephen Miller (@Stephen Miller) 1611174528.0
Mr. Miller, we're still trying to puzzle out exactly how all — or any — Americans are helped by the detention and separation of a couple of kids who both had valid US visas.
While the brothers were detained, the officers took away their passports and decided neither visa was really valid after all, which meant that Vladimir was instantly an "unaccompanied minor alien," so he was taken away and sent to a shelter in San Diego run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement — again without being allowed to talk to his brother, his family back in Haiti, or his US attorney, Milli Atkinson. Vladimir was finally allowed a phone call to his mother some time after he arrived at the facility Monday, Atkinson said. And now that he's in the limbo of unaccompanied minor alien status, Atkinson fears, Crom only knows how long it will take to reunite Vladimir with his family.
"This system is designed to protect children from trafficking. But it was clear from the moment he entered that this was not a trafficking situation," she said. "It's a long bureaucratic process and it could possibly be months before he can see his family again."
Yep, the good old "maybe it's child trafficking" excuse for family separations, which is how the Trump administration has made life hell not just for undocumented immigrants since the supposed "end" of family separation in 2018, but for legal immigrants and travelers, too. This is exactly the sort of shit the new administration needs to work on as part of the overhaul of immigration policy Joe Biden ordered yesterday — just a few days too late for Vladimir and his brother.
Atkinson, legal director of the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative, told KQED that the brothers have travelled for years between the US and Haiti, and yes, always in accordance with the law. Laporte, with the proper student visa, went to a boarding school in New England for his last two years of high school, and this fall he started college at Diablo Valley College because he'd heard good things about its science program. Vladimir regularly visited him on a tourist visa as well. They were finishing up a family vacation in the Dominican Republic when they flew to the US; Laporte was supposed to start classes Tuesday, and Vladimir was going to stay a few days before returning to Haiti.
Ah, but at the airport, CBP didn't accept Laporte's student visa because he lacked other paperwork needed to enter the US. It was a holiday weekend, so he had trouble contacting Diablo Valley College for help. CBP also interrogated Vladimir by himself, and, according to a statement from the agency, determined he was bent on breaking the law!
It was determined the minor had previously been attending elementary school in California on a B-1 tourist visa, violating the terms of that visa, and was intending to resume his schooling, again in violation of his visa. [...]
CBP officers acted with professionalism, integrity and in accordance with federal laws and regulations.
Atkinson says nope, that's wrong, starting with interrogating a child who had no adults to consult.
She said Fardin had never overstayed a visa and if he had attended school at some point, it was an honest misunderstanding of the terms of the visa.
She added that immigration officials have a lot of leeway in how they handle visa irregularities at ports of entry, and could have warned the family about tourist visa rules and allowed the brothers into the country conditionally while Laporte sorted out his student visa paperwork.
"Every step of the way they had a great deal of discretion and in every instance they used that discretion to separate these children and prevent the 9-year-old from returning to his family in a safe way," said Atkinson.
Atkinson also told the East Bay Times that Vladimir wasn't planning to enroll illegally in public school, but was instead only planning to "visit with family, see what schools were like, and hoped to return and go to school correctly and legally." Gee, we can't imagine a CBP officer might have taken something a nine-year-old said about going to school and put the worst possible spin on it. They're usually so competent and honest, like the officers a few years back — yes, under Obama — who wrote that a three-year-old had confessed in an interview to entering the US to "look for work" illegally.
Atkinson is quite certain she knows what's going on, noting that she's heard many similar stories of Black immigrants being caught up in immigration fuckery in the final days of the Donald Trump-Stephen Miller regime. Noting Trump's complaint that the US admits too many people from "shithole countries," she said,
You know, we have to question whether or not this would have happened to two children from Sweden coming to return to school.
You think? Not even students whose families can afford boarding schools and fairly frequent international travel?
Ultimately, Laporte agreed to expedited deportation instead of going to an ICE jail, and he was flown not back to his home in Haiti but to the Dominican Republic, where his flight originated. Just to be dicks, CBP didn't provide any flight information to Atkinson, his attorney, and remember, she also wasn't allowed to talk to either brother, either. Brother! Fortunately, their mom was able to drive from Haiti into the DR and get him from the airport.
"Their mother is devastated," Atkinson said. "She is heartbroken for Christian ... and she is justifiably worried about Vladimir's safety and well-being."
As for Vladimir, he's still in ORR baby jail, waiting to be rescued. His mother hoped maybe she could help by coming to the US, and before she learned her sons had been separated had already bought a plane ticket to San Francisco. She's still considering coming, at least if she's not going to be scooped up, too:
"Now we're working to learn if it is safe for her," Atkinson said. "She is willing to do so if it helps reunification go more smoothly."
We'd advise her to wait until after tomorrow, when Biden's deportation moratorium goes into effect. If even then, since for all we know, the very professional immigration cops may just decide that if "indefinite detention" wasn't in the order, then they'll go with that.
Lord, there's just so much that needs to be fixed.
[Guardian / KQED / East Bay Times]
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