The incarceration of Haitian immigrant Ansley Damus in the Geauga County jail prompted some Chagrin area residents to lend support to the man held for two years under a U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement Agency order.
He was released last November and still is awaiting resolution of his case.
In an effort to help the now 43-year-old Haitian immigrant, supporters founded a local chapter of Americans Making Immigrants Safe or AMIS.
Anne Hill said the area chapter got its start in April of this year, and today there are eight people on the board including Chagrin Falls resident Kristina DuBois.
AMIS is holding an event on Nov. 16 to help raise funds to support immigrants in this area trying to get by and achieve legal status.
Ms. Hill said she received a call from Mr. Damus’ attorney seeking help to find his client a sponsor. Ms. Hill was able to locate a couple in Cleveland Heights willing to take in Mr. Damus.
Mr. Damus, an ethics professor in Haiti, currently has a job and is still living with the family in Cleveland Heights.
Previously, Mr. Damus had gone to the California-Mexican border, to present himself and to ask for asylum, as immigrants legally are required to do, Ms. Hill said. He had never committed a crime of any kind, she added.
But ICE flew him to the Geauga County jail, where he was kept for two years while his case dragged on in immigration court, she said. The Geauga County jail has a contract with ICE.
Geauga County Sheriff Scott Hildenbrand said the county jail has a contract with the government to hold ICE detainees. Some people have been held for more than a year, he said. “We’ve been doing it seven to eight years,” he said. It brings in about $2 million a year for the jail. ICE pays $75 a day per inmate and the revenue goes to the Geauga County Commissioners for the general fund. Other than the food involved, it does not cost the jail itself, Sheriff Hildenbrand said.
Ms. Hill said that Mr. Damus was able to get released after obtaining a pro bono attorney. “A group of us rallied around him, including Patriots for Change from Chagrin Falls.
“We all went to his hearing and he obtained parole,” Ms. Hill said, adding that he has a work permit. He has a job with Federated Metal driving a truck, she said.
He was granted asylum twice by an immigrant court judge and the third time by Homeland Security. Every time he was granted asylum, ICE appealed it, Ms. Hill said. He will eventually have to appeal to the district court outside of the immigration court system with a new lawyer that will cost $15,000, she said.
“It will be a long time before the case is settled,” Ms. Hill said. He sends money he earns to his family and stays in touch with them.
“We created AMIS, French for friends, because they speak in French in Haiti, and then thought to broaden the scope to help to other immigrants,” Ms. Hill said. “We contribute to the school in Haiti for Ansley’s children.” He has not seen them for almost five years.
“The purpose of AMIS is to provide assistance to immigrants trying to obtain legal status here, paying their legal fees, education and necessary living expenses,” she said.
Brian Hoffman, an immigration attorney with Catholic Charities, has experience in helping immigrants and preventing them from being deported by ICE and obtaining legal status, she noted.
Mr. Damus left Haiti because he was being threatened by gang members who beat up the ethics professor after he stated that a politician was corrupt, she said.
Ms. DuBois said she got involved because she has been horrified by the treatment of immigrants.
Her mother was an immigrant from Germany after World War II. Her paternal grandfather came by boat in 1913 from Russia. His wife was an immigrant from Russia who came by way of Canada.
Ms. DuBois said the hatred in the news toward immigrants, especially those of color, has bothered her. “I have been upset about what is happening, and it’s barely the tip of the iceberg of what is going on,” she said.
She noted a prison in Youngstown is housing immigrants as well, Ms. DuBois said.
“We want to shed light on it,” she said. “And we heard of people whose families are getting deported.” A woman whose husband was deported is speaking at the AMIS event Nov. 16.
The goal is to inform people about what is going on, Ms. DuBois said. And with the needs, they want to raise funds to help immigrants who are struggling, she said.
“We feel the need to let people know about it,” Ms. DuBois said.
“We raise money to help immigrants with specific needs,” Ms. DuBois said. One area man who was recently deported ran a successful landscape business and paid taxes here, she said, but did not have a proper Visa.
The fundraiser is from 5-7 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Chagrin Valley Athletic Club, 17260 Snyder Road in Bainbridge. Proceeds will go toward helping Haitian and other immigrants in the area to help pay for living expenses, education and attorneys for those seeking legal status. Visit www.amisohio.org for more information on the group and tickets. The event includes hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar and entertainment by Cleveland Institute of Music musicians. Mr. Damus will be at the event.