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Haitian asylum seeker released after two years in detention without sunlight

prison bars

A federal judge in Ann Arbor ordered the release of a Haitian asylum seeker who's been in detention for two years. Ansly Damus had already been granted asylum by an immigration judge. But immigration authorities kept him in detention while they appealed the case repeatedly. 

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit for Damus asking for him to be released. According to a petition for writ of habeas corpus, the government never explained why it was keeping Damus in detention, and he never received a bond hearing where he could contest his imprisonment. 

Michael Steinberg is with the ACLU.

"It's punitive. These are punitive conditions. Under this administration, it seems clear that they are doing whatever they can to deter people from exercising their constitutional rights under human law to seek refuge in this country," says Steinberg. 

Judge Judith Levy of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ordered that Damus must be released by 5 p.m. Friday, November 30, 2018, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Under the terms of his parole, he will reside with his sponsors in Ohio and wear an electronic ankle monitor. 

Damus was born in 1976 in Haiti. He has a wife and two children who still live in Haiti. He was a teacher of ethics and other courses. In one of his classes, he referenced a local politician as an example of an official who used bandits to terrorize the population. In retaliation, members of a gang called La Meezorequin, "The Shark Bones Army," attacked Damus, beat him, and set his motorcycle on fire. Then they threatened to kill him. 

He fled to Brazil in 2014. However, he suffered discrimination there. He left Brazil and presented himself to immigration authorities at the port of entry in Calexico, California in October, 2016. He has been incarcerated since then while his asylum case has been under consideration. He was granted asylum by an immigration judge on April 4, 2017. But the government appealed. On January 10, 2018, he was granted asylum again, and the government appealed again. The government's argument each time has been that Damus had already resettled in Brazil. Damus argued that he faced discrimination in Brazil, and therefore is still eligible for asylum in the U.S. 

According to Steinberg, Damus has never committed any crime, and is not being accused of any crime. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has provided no justification for the prolonged imprisonment, according to the ACLU. 

Damus was detained at Geauga County Safety Center in Chardon, Ohio. Steinberg says that there was no window in the cell where Damus was kept, and that detainees did not receive any exercise and were never allowed outdoors.

Damus is also the lead plaintiff in a national class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice challenging the Trump administration's practice of detaining asylum seekers who are not a flight risk or a danger to the public. 

Catherine Shaffer joined Michigan Radio in 2014. She works in the newsroom and specializes in stories related to the life sciences, health, and technology. Catherine earned a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Michigan State University and a Master’s from University of Michigan. Prior to Michigan Radio, Catherine has worked as a freelance writer, mainly in focusing on biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, since 2001. She is also an award-winning fiction writer. When not at work, Catherine enjoys being in the outdoors and practicing yoga.