News

Celebrated author Danticat testifies on behalf of Haitian immigrants

Alva James-Johnson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel (MCT)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Edwidge Danticat normally advocates for Haitians through books, providing readers with a poignant view of their immigrant struggle.

But on Thursday, the critically acclaimed Haitian-American author took her mission to the halls of the Congress. She told federal lawmakers about her 81-year-old uncle, the Rev. Joseph Nosius Dantica, who died three years ago in Miami while in federal detention.

The author's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law came just weeks after Danticat released her family memoir, Brother, I'm Dying, which chronicles the lives of her father and uncle, who died a few months apart. On Thursday, she presented her uncle's case as part of the subcommittee's hearing on Detention and Removal: Immigration Detainee Medical Care. Cheryl Little, of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center of Miami, also served as a witness.

Dantica became Danticat's surrogate father during the 1970s after her parents left Haiti to pursue a better life. He pastored a church in the gang-infested Bel Air neighborhood where the family lived. Even after she came to the United States to reunite with her parents in the 1980s, Danticat maintained a close relationship with her uncle.

In October 2004, Dantica left Haiti to escape thugs who ransacked his church.

When he sought asylum at Miami International Airport, he was detained by officials with the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement and taken to Krome Detention Center in Miami.

His son, Maxo, who traveled with him to the United States, said later that Krome personnel took away the prescribed medication Dantica needed for high blood pressure and an inflamed prostate. Immigration officials denied the charges, saying he carried only a folk remedy.

In her written statement to the subcommittee, Danticat described the details of her uncle's final hours. She said he arrived in the United States with a passport and a valid multiple-entry visa, which would have expired in 2008. Because he asked for temporary asylum, he was taken to Krome, where officials confiscated his medication, she said. On the morning of his credible fear hearing, he became ill, vomiting from his mouth, nose and tracheotomy in his neck.

Fifteen minutes passed before help arrived, Danticat said. A medic who came accused her uncle of faking his illness. Later that morning, he was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital, and wasn't seen by a physician for 24 hours, Danticat said. He was pronounced dead eight hours later, on Nov. 3.

"The fact that he was not permitted by Homeland Security and Krome officials to see loved ones, who also wanted to see him during his final hours, must have left him feeling less than human at best," she said.

To receive his medical records, the family had to file a Freedom of Information Act request and sue the Department of Homeland Security, Danticat said.

"Not only did we tragically lose our loved one," she said in the written statement. "But we had to fight a huge bureaucracy to find out what happened to him."

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