Released from federal detention earlier this month, Haitian earthquake survivors Mackenson Luberice and James Dorinville hoped for an end to what they call a nightmarish round of confusion and depression that began at the Port-au-Prince airport when they mistakenly were put aboard U.S.-bound military flights.
But while freed from South Florida jail cells, both Luberice and Dorinville say they continue to be punished by the Catch-22 consequences of an agreement they signed in order to be released, allowing immigration officials to deport them at any time.
"I have been traumatized by this," said Dorinville, 25, one of an estimated 65 Haitians held in detention for two months or more after they arrived in the United States without valid visas or passports in the chaotic days following the Jan 12 earthquake.
Without work permits, and with deportations to Haiti indefinitely suspended, Luberice, 24, who is staying with a cousin in Tamarac, and Dorinville, now with a sister in Lake Worth, find themselves in what their attorney calls a paralyzing "limbo" of uncertainty.
"It is going to be difficult for them to adapt, not knowing if they will be deported in one month, three months or two years from now," said Allison Kent, a lawyer with the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, which represents 33 Haitians who were detained at either the Broward Transitional Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement lockup in Pompano Beach, or at the Krome detention center in Miami.
Given the confusion and trauma associated with the earthquake, Kent said, "I don't know if they had a full understanding of their options."
After the earthquake that took the lives of more than 200,000 Haitians and shattered the capital city, hundreds of the injured and displaced were flown to Miami, Orlando and other U.S. cities. Some were granted humanitarian parole or temporary tourist visas, said Kent.
But others, including Luberice and Dorinville, were taken into custody.
Barbara Gonzalez, a Miami spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said, "In order to mitigate the probability that Haitians may attempt to make a potentially deadly journey to the U.S., we clearly articulated that those attempting to enter the U.S. illegally after Jan. 12, 2010, are subject to removal."
Dorinville, Luberice and 31 other detained Haitians were freed April 1, two weeks after Kent and Advocacy Center statewide director Charus Newhouse al-Sahli wrote to Michael Meade, ICE field office director in Plantation, asking for their release based on "urgent humanitarian need."
"Our recent interviews with these detainees have shown that many are exhibiting unmistakable, and serious, signs of post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety," the letter said.
Dorinville said he was injured during the earthquake when a taxi he was in crashed into a wall. After being treated by doctors at the Port-au-Prince airport, he was put in a wheelchair and loaded onto a military transport that landed in Orlando. From there he was transferred to Pompano Beach and then to Krome.
"I didn't ask to come here, and I didn't commit crimes," said Dorinville. "Yet I was handcuffed and treated like a criminal."
Luberice, 24, an aspiring journalist who said he pulled the bodies of his parents from their collapsed house in the days after the quake, said he too ended up in Orlando after being waved onto a plane while at the airport conducting interviews for a local radio station.
"It was not in my mind to leave Haiti," said Luberice. "I could be given diamonds and gold, and it would not make up for the experience I've had."
Still, he said, "now that I am here, I would like to stay and have a future here."
The day after the earthquake, the U.S. government stopped all deportations to Haiti. Following that, federal officials said Haitians already in the United States illegally would be allowed to stay under Temporary Protected Status, or TPS.
But Luberice and Dorinville were released under what is called "orders of supervision,'' requiring them to report periodically to immigration officials. They are not eligible for work permits.
They could also "self-deport," said Kent, by buying an airline ticket back to Haiti.
Dorinville said he is willing to go back to Haiti now. "If not for the earthquake, this never would have happened," he said.
But Luberice sees a future here, and his cousin, Roland Coichy said he will help. "He is a smart guy," said Coichy, 41, a medical technician. "If given a chance he will succeed."
Mike Clary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 305-810-5007.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun