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Haitian twice granted asylum stays jailed pending another U.S. appeal

August 19, 2018

Haitian twice granted asylum stays jailed pending another U.S. appeal

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Ansly Damus, a Haitian immigrant twice granted asylum by a U.S. immigration judge in Cleveland, will remain in lockup in the Geauga County Safety Center in Chardon as the government considers his case, now for a third time.

The government, which appealed both asylum rulings, this week informed Damus that his application for release pending its appeal of his asylum award has been denied, according to Damus’s lawyer, Elizabeth Ford. She said the government considers him a flight risk.

Damus, 42, has been locked up for nearly two years after presenting himself for asylum at the California border. He was not arrested as an undocumented immigrant, and he has no criminal record.

Damus had been an ethics teacher in Haiti who criticized a local official and was then harassed and threatened by a gang loyal to that politician. He fled first to Brazil, and, 18 months later, to the United States, where he presented himself for asylum immediately upon entry.

He was sent to jail in Geauga County while his case was decided. On April 3, 2017, an immigration judge in Cleveland granted him asylum, believing his claim that his life would be in danger should he return to Haiti, where his wife and two children still live.

The government appealed, saying his extended time in Brazil rendered his application moot. The immigration judge this year again granted asylum, ruling that Damus had not set down roots in Brazil and therefore had grounds to seek asylum in the United States.

The government appealed again and the federal Board of Immigration Appeals has sent the case back to the immigration judge in Cleveland, where it will be considered for a third time. A hearing is set for September.

In the meanwhile, local supporters were pushing for his release and promising that he’d have lodging and support as his case continues. They’re dismayed by the denial of parole, in which the government said Damus had “no substantial ties to the community.”

Gary Benjamin, a Cleveland Heights lawyer, and his wife, Melody Hart, have been visiting Damus weekly and offered to board him in their home as his case is heard.

“I would say we are a substantial tie. We made the commitment to take care of him while he goes through this hamster-wheel process ICE calls justice, and we will,” he said.

Several members of the community have written letters of support. To no avail. Benjamin said after the denial this week, he’s offered to pay for an ankle monitor to assure Damus stays put.

“They can safely have him live with us on our nickel, but the government would rather house him in a jail that it has to pay pretty good rent for at the taxpayer’s expense,” said Benjamin. “Unfair, unwise and expensive.”

Supporters are working on a social media campaign to bring awareness to the plight of Ansly Damus and specifically the fact that he’s been incarcerated for nearly two years despite the court twice granting his asylum request.

Khaalid Walls, spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, did not return messages seeking comment this week. He said in an email last month that because the case is active, he could not comment.

Said Ford, “ICE could put him on the electric monitor as an alternative to detention. I have no idea why they are not doing that. Other than the fact that they are trying to destroy this man and try to force him to give up.”
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