But for an eleventh-hour intervention from his family, attorney and a New York congressman, 40-year-old Paul Pierrilus would have been deported to Haiti despite the fact that he has never been to the Caribbean country and does not know anyone there.
The financial consultant would have been part of the final batch of people to have been deported under the Trump administration during his last days in office.
According to The Washington Post, Pierrilus, who is stateless at the moment, was born in the French territory of St. Martin to Haitian parents but moved to the United States with them when he was a child. As a result, he wasn’t eligible for a passport as both the French government and Haiti do not immediately confer citizenship to minors who are born outside their respective territories.
An attorney with the Haitian Bridge Alliance, Katrina Bleckley, told the news outlet the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) got to know about Pierrilus’ immigration status following a drug conviction in 2003. Officials at the agency said the 40-year-old came to the United States on a visitor visa in 1985 but had overstayed.
Due to his conviction, an immigration judge ordered his deportation. Pierrilus appealed the ruling in 2005 and 2008 but lost. Meanwhile, his attorney said he was granted an order of supervision that permitted him to work and reside in the United States.
Pierrilus was detained by the ICE on January 11 during a routine check with federal immigration officials as he was fulfilling the conditions of his order of supervision – something he had been doing for almost twenty years. To his surprise, he was rather taken into custody and later transported to a removal staging facility in Louisiana ahead of his deportation.
Though the ICE told The Post Pierrilus “is an illegally present citizen of the Haiti”, they did not corroborate their claim with travel documents. On Thursday, the Haitian ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, also confirmed his government does not have any records proving Pierrilus is a Haitian citizen. He also said they have never handed over any travel documents for Pierrilus to the ICE, adding that they’ve turned down the agency twice.
The news of Pierrilus’s pending deportation got his family distraught, and they moved to try and block it. Through a cousin, his sister was able to get in touch with Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) who quickly stepped in to help, The Post reported.
Jones and his team, together with Bleckley, pressured the ICE to provide Haitian travel documents for Pierrilus, but they did not respond. The pressure, however, paid off and Pierrilus wasn’t deported.
“We have an immigration system where attorneys, advocacy organizations and members of Congress must work on a case-by-case basis to work miracles in order to obtain justice for clients and constituents,” Jones said. “That is no way to run an immigration system.”
Edmond also told The Post they raised concerns over Pierrilus’ deportation with the ICE, but they still attempted carrying it out, despite not having his travel documents.
“We found the lack of humanity in the process disturbing. We asked ourselves, how many others were deported this way?,” he said.
Pierrilus is yet to return home – though it is expected to be during the course of the week. The next line of action is also unknown.
Former President Trump was very relentless with his immigration policies during his 4-year tenure, and immigration attorneys and advocates told The Post ICE officials unabatedly continued deporting people even during the last hours of his presidency. Unlike Pierrilus, who was saved at the 11th hour, the unlucky ones were also reportedly either dumped in countries they hardly even know or fled several years ago.
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order halting the deportation of some undocumented immigrants for the next 100 days and also reversed immigration bans on some countries. Though the Democratic president is proposing a much more flexible immigration policy – unlike that of his predecessor – some Republican lawmakers have already voiced their disapproval.