No Country, No Medicine, No Chance

19 November 2004

Hannah Tinti writes: “I just found out that Edwidge Danticat’s uncle, who raised her while her parents were in the US, died last week while in the custody of Homeland Security. He was 81 years old, he had a valid visa to the US, he was a church pastor, and he was forced to flee Haiti after the UN used his church to stage an ‘operation,’ killing several civilians in the process.

“Upon arriving in the US he requested asylum — as he had a visa and a family willing to take him in this should have been a straightforward process but instead he was taken into custody, refused his blood pressure medication and his family was not allowed to visit him. He died 5 days later.

“There was no reason to detain him in this manner, no reason to deny him his medication, no reason to refuse his family the right to visit him.

“Edwidge Danticat is the author of Krik?Krak!Breath, Eyes, MemoryThe Farming of Bonesand The Dew Breaker. She taught writing at NYU when I was there, and was a very supportive and giving teacher. I’m passing on the following news report, in the hope that you can help me spread the word about this terrible tragedy, and, as a community of writers, find ways to respond and make people aware of how the office of Homeland Security is abusing its power. Please let the magazines, newspapers and blogs that you write for know about this story.

Sunday, November 14, 2004
Twice a victim: first in Haiti, then in the U.S.
by Jim Defede, Miami Herald Columnist

The gun battle started around 5 a.m. with Haitian police and U.N. troops entering the slum neighborhood of Bel Air, a stronghold for those still loyal to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Using bulldozers, the police broke through barricades of burned-out cars.

But unlike previous raids into Bel Air that lasted less than an hour, this one, on Sunday, Oct. 24, would persist for the better part of the day.

Soon after the fighting started, Joseph Dantica, 81, took refuge with a handful of people inside the Church of the Redeemer. Dantica had founded the Baptist church more than 25 years ago and was its senior pastor. He had spent the better part of his life in Bel Air, and although his family had begged him to move somewhere safer, he always refused.

”He was a very good man and extremely loyal to the neighborhood where he lived,” said his niece, acclaimed Haitian author Edwidge Danticat. “Even when things got very rough and difficult in Bel Air, he stayed. He stayed through all the different regimes, serving the people of his neighborhood. He was, in his own quiet way, trying to make a difference.”

By 9:30 a.m., police and U.N. troops using armored cars with mounted machine guns, approached Dantica’s church. The police wanted to go inside. Dantica let them in.

They then took up combat positions on the upper floors of the church, as well as an adjoining school the church operates. The new vantage point allowed police to ambush a group of gang members in an alley below.

”A lot of them must have died,” said Dantica’s son, Maxo. “The shooting went on for a long time.”

The article goes on to report that after the troops left, angry locals approached Dantica accusing him of having aided in the killing of 15, the funerals of whom he would have to pay for. Dantica hid; a local gang burned the church’s altar; Dantica fled to Miami. Dantica’s papers were in order, but he was imprisoned by Homeland Security nonetheless. His family hired a lawyer, but the lawyer couldn’t get Dantica his medicine. He was hospitalized. His family was not allowed to visit him. He died.

“Orwellian” as an adjective is increasingly a cliche, but there is no other word for Homeland Security’s response:

“‘It is unfortunate that Mr. Dantica died during the benefits application process, and we understand his family’s grief, but there is no connection between the preexisting terminal medical condition he had and the process through which he entered the country.’

“Homeland Security would not explain why Dantica was taken into custody if he had a valid visa, nor would the agency address claims that he had been deprived of his medication.”