US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) is to carry out a final deportation flight of the Trump era on Tuesday, with a plane bound for Haiti whose passengers include a man who is not a Haitian citizen, and who has never been there.
Paul Pierrilus, a 40-year-old financial consultant from Rockland County, New York, was born in the French Caribbean territory of Saint Martin, according to a birth certificate supplied by his family, who said he came to the US with his parents when he was five. His sister and parents are US citizens.
He was picked up on 11 January, as part of what human rights advocates say is a last sweep of black migrants in the final days of the Trump administration. He has told his family he was being transferred to an Ice holding facility in Alexandria, Louisiana, which is a typical precursor to deportation.
According to his sister, Neomie, he was seized when he went to an immigration office on Federal Plaza in Manhattan on 11 January, for what he thought would be a routine visit.
“He went there for the appointment and while he was there, he was detained, and he was informed that they have documents stating that he’s a Haitian citizen,” Neomie Pierrilus said.
She said their parents were Haitian but never applied for Paul’s Haitian citizenship. “We don’t really understand how documents were obtained to say that my brother was a citizen of Haiti.
“My brother has never even been to Haiti,” she said. “He has the bare minimum of the language, he doesn’t know the culture, he doesn’t know anyone there. So my brother cannot go there.”
Neomie Pierrilus supplied copies of emails last year from the then Haitian ambassador, Hervé Denis, confirming that her brother was not a Haitian citizen. Nor did Paul’s birth in Saint Martin confer French citizenship, making him stateless.
Guerline Jozef, head of the community group Haitian Bridge Alliance, said that the intense level of political violence in Haiti represented a serious threat to Pierrilus’s life.
“Sending him to Haiti, first of all, is not legal,” Jozef said. “And with what’s going on in Haiti right now, there is no way they should be deporting people there period, especially him because he is not Haitian, has never been there and has no connections there. So they cannot just drop him at the airport.”
Ice has been running removal flights to Haiti every second Tuesday, and appears ready to press ahead with this week’s scheduled flight on the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration. Biden has promised a 100-day suspension of deportations on taking office, while immigration and Ice procedures are reviewed.
There have been calls for the agency to be dissolved for its role in enforcing Trump’s anti-immigration policies, including the separation of migrant children from their parents. Ice has also been accused of torturing African asylum-seekers to make them sign waivers allowing for their deportation, as part of a sweep particularly targeting African and Caribbean migrants.
Another flight is due to leave Arizona on Tuesday, heading to Mauritania, carrying Black Mauritanian deportees, despite well-documented persecution and enslavement of their community there. Deportations of Black Mauritanians were rare before the Trump administration, under which they have increased more than tenfold.
An Ice spokeswoman said that she could not confirm any deportation flight until it had landed, for reasons of operational security.
“That being said, it’s not uncommon for removal flights to stop in multiple locations,” the spokeswoman said.
The Ice Twitter account celebrated Martin Luther King day on Monday saying that it honoured his “message of hope, justice and equality”.
Jozef said that the agency’s relentless deportation of Haitians and Africans – despite the endemic violence there and the risks of spreading coronavirus – made a mockery of that claim.
“They have been targeting black communities. They have been targeting black immigrants. So this is the last attempt of destroying lives,” she said. “As we celebrate the life of MLK who has been fighting for justice and on the eve of the inauguration, this cannot happen. This should not be happening.”