ICE Changes Course, Declines To Deport COVID-Positive Haitians [UPDATE]

A deportation flight with sick immigrants potentially endangers fellow airline passengers and people in Haiti.

UPDATE: 7 p.m. — In the face of growing opposition in Haiti to deportations from the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement appears to have changed its mind at the last minute about deporting Haitians who say they recently tested positive for the coronavirus at Pine Prairie, a Louisiana immigrant detention center.

Passengers on the scheduled ICE deportation flight, which arrived at around 1 p.m. Monday in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, did not include any of the five people listed on the flight manifest who had recently tested positive for COVID-19 at Pine Prairie, according to Haitian government sources cited by the Miami Herald. Moreover, while there were originally 100 passengers listed on the flight manifest, just 50 people were actually deported Monday, according to these government sources.

A panel comprising leading scientists in Haiti recommended Sunday that the Haitian government halt all deportations during the pandemic.

PREVIOUSLY: The U.S. plans to deport Haitians on Monday who say they have tested positive for COVID-19 ― a move that would put both fellow airline passengers and people in their homeland at risk.

A manifest for the scheduled deportation flight, obtained by HuffPost, shows 100 passengers. Two of those listed, Stephane Etienne and Mackendy Calice, confirmed to HuffPost that they have tested positive for the coronavirus, and three others listed on the manifest also have tested positive, according to U.S.-based human rights group the Institute for Justice and Democracy In Haiti. The Miami Herald reported on the case on Friday.

These removals of COVID-positive detainees would align with the Trump administration’s deportation priorities, but not with pleas from foreign governments to stop deporting people with the virus during the pandemic. In the past, some Haitian deportees have tested positive once they’ve been returned to the country. A Haitian official told HuffPost in April that further removals was “putting an additional burden on all of our fragile systems.”

The latest planned removals show that Immigration and Customs Enforcement may be deporting people it knows for certain are COVID-19-positive ― a move that can spread the virus and strain the health care system in other countries.

ICE did not respond to a request for comment on the removals.

Etienne and Calice, the two Haitian men who said they tested positive for COVID-19, were in “total lockdown” inside Pine Prairie Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center in Louisiana, Calice said. They’re isolated from the detainee general population in a special area for those who test positive for the virus. Etienne’s coronavirus tests have twice come back positive, he said. Calice, who said he hasn’t been allowed to go outside in more than a month, tested positive on April 26.

They said they were surprised to learn that they, along with three dormmates who also tested positive, were scheduled to be deported to Haiti on Monday.

Agents working for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prepare to board detainees onto a flight in February.
Agents working for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prepare to board detainees onto a flight in February.
David Ryder/Getty Images

Etienne and Calice heard about the deportation flight, which was first reported by Jake Johnston of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, from Etienne’s wife.

“ICE, they don’t let you know anything,” Etienne said.

Both men are fighting their deportation. Calice said he has managed to obtain a stay of removal, which should, at least in principle, temporarily block ICE from deporting him. Etienne, who also is objecting through legal channels, said he was born in the U.S. and does not have any national identification in Haiti.

When HuffPost spoke to the two men on Sunday afternoon, they were hopeful that ICE might reconsider.

However, they said three of their dormmates were suddenly removed from the dorm Sunday morning and transported to the ICE Alexandria Staging Facility, where many detainees are housed the night before they are deported.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy In Haiti confirmed that the three dormmates were moved to Alexandria, and their names are listed on the flight manifest. HuffPost was unable to reach the individuals.

One of the detainees set for removal tested positive for the coronavirus “many times,” said Steve Forester, the human rights group’s immigration policy coordinator. All have tested positive for the virus at least once since April 16.

One of the men moved to Alexandria for likely deportation had been complaining about an ache in the whole lower part of his body, said Etienne and Calice.

Calice said he had to physically help the man walk Sunday morning because he was in so much pain. “When he was leaving, his leg was aching,” Calice said. “You know like when you have a fever?”

Because the dormmate spoke limited English, Calice said he sometimes translated for the medical staff at Pine Prairie. The day before the transfer, Calice recalled, “I told the nurse he doesn’t feel good at all, he can’t stand up.”

“I was actually there when he got tested,” said Calice. “They tested him in front of me about four times.”

Calice and Etienne said their dormmate told them the results of his sixth coronavirus test, which he received on Saturday.

“He just basically said, I’m positive,” Etienne said. “I got six positives.”

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