Diaspora

American Baby with Heart Condition may be “Deported” to Haiti–November 2022 – Dispatches from Haiti – Peoria Journal Star

He’s 9 months old and a U.S. citizen. Why does Florida DCF want to send him to Haiti?
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES AND JAY WEAVER UPDATED NOVEMBER 03, 2022
He was born in Broward County to a troubled mother who lost permanent custody due to mental health struggles. His mother’s parental rights to three of her older children had already been terminated. His father, back in Haiti, was not in the picture. Urged on by the Florida Department of Children & Families, a circuit court judge has ruled that 9-month-old Ector — by birthright an American citizen — should be sent to Haiti to be with his maternal grandmother, who lives in a mountainous region and has no steady income.
The Florida foster family that has raised him since he was a week old fears for his safety in a country torn by kidnapping gangs and catastrophic hunger and wants to adopt him. Haiti is a country on the verge of collapse. Armed gangs regularly block roads and close down hospitals and schools and a gang blockade is making fuel and drinking water scarce, leading to a deadly cholera outbreak and food shortages.
The State Department has warned U.S. citizens not to go, and said those living there should depart Haiti now in light of the current security and health situation and infrastructure challenges.
Even under the best of circumstances, healthcare in Haiti is problematic. And Ector has more than the usual healthcare issues, including a heart condition and the need for insertion of ear tubes to curb infections caused by fluid accumulation in the inner ear. Both conditions need to be addressed. and finding care in Haiti, where hospitals have been forced to close because of the ongoing crisis, could be vastly more challenging.
“What is going on there right now is not a good thing. It’s scary and it’s violent, and to send an infant into that with no protection, away from his only home, away from everybody he knows, to a place where he could possibly have food issues, not get clean water, that’s all very concerning,” said Tamara Simmons, who with her husband, Gerald, has been caring for Ector nearly since the boy’s birth.
He could be sent to Haiti any day despite the concerns of his foster parents, who have struggled in their legal effort to keep him here. A lawsuit filed by the Simmonses in federal court to keep Ector here by overriding the circuit court judge’s decision was recently dismissed.
“He was born here. This is his birthright,” Simmons said, adding that the child is formula fed. “He has the right to clean water, and he has the right to not starve.”
The custody dispute highlights DCF’s inconsistent handling of the troubled mother’s children — three of whom were allowed to be adopted in South Florida and now a fourth ordered to be sent to a country wracked with violence, food shortages and limited medical services.
In August, Broward Circuit Judge Jose Izquierdo sided with state welfare authorities and ruled that Ector should be placed with his maternal grandmother because he found that she is the closest responsible relative. That move, the judge said, would reunite Ector with still another sibling in the grandmother’s care and place Ector “in proximity” to his legal father — to whom Ector’s mother was married at the time of his birth — though court records do not show him expressing any interest in the child. The couple is now estranged. Separately, there is a biological father, who also is not involved with the child. Both men are in Haiti.
“They are dumping the kid into an active volcano,” said Dr. Jim Wilentz, a U.S.-based cardiologist who cares for children in Haiti with heart conditions and has no connection to the case. “I do not understand the urgency of sending a child to Haiti at a time of essentially deep deconstruction of the Haitian state, including healthcare.”
The Florida agency handling Ector’s case is ChildNet, the nonprofit contracted by DCF to provide community-based child welfare services in Broward County. DCF did not respond to multiple Miami Herald requests for comment.
In Haiti, factories close, school feedings are on hold and hunger is about to get worse Simmons said Ector has three older biological siblings living in the United States who have been adopted and see each other. She doesn’t understand why Ector isn’t being afforded the same opportunity.
“He’s an American citizen. What right do they have to deny him healthcare? What right do they have to deny him clean water? What right do they have to deny him an education?” Simmons said. “That’s his right and I think it’s sick that his mother is a citizen here and all of his other siblings get to be here, in their birthright, and eat properly and get healthcare and go to school and he can’t.”
Tamara Simmons said she didn’t start off wanting to adopt Ector. In fact, he was supposed to be placed with the family of one of his siblings. When that family wasn’t able to take him soon after he was born, the child ended up in her home with other foster children she cares for.
Simmons said when a state social worker flew to Port-au-Prince to do a home study of the grandmother, Simmons was initially supportive of placing him there, as a way to promote family reunification. But when Simmons learned of conditions at the grandmother’s home — no plumbing, no electricity, no steady income, she says she was told by the social worker — she became alarmed. Acquiring supplies required walking a mile to a bus stop and traveling 45 minutes down a mountain to Port-au-Prince, where heavily armed violent gangs now rule the terrain.
Further worrying Simmons: Child welfare workers are seeking to send Ector to a home where the maternal grandmother is already struggling to care for an older sibling of Ector. She relies financially on her son, who has been unable to work due to the ongoing crisis, Simmons said.
Izquierdo, in the court order, said: “Not every placement can or need be in an affluent area within mere minutes of the best hospitals or school. The statute’s clear purpose is to ensure that the child or children have access to the services they need to address their medical, educational and emotional needs.”
Court documents note that the decision to place the child with the maternal grandmother stems from the desire of the mother. The court also notes that the mother suffers from severe mental issues and lives in a homeless shelter.
“If you’re trying to figure out the best interest of a child, you should be looking at all the homes,” Simmons said, adding that the child’s health needs might be difficult to address in Haiti, given the current upheaval and the remoteness of the grandmother’s home.
Simmons said she has no issues with Ector’s maternal grandmother or the son she relies on for support. “They’re very kind people to me. It’s not them as humans, but the situation they are sending him into” that concerns her.
Wilentz, who has spent the past two years struggling to provide medical care for children in his Cardiac Alliance nonprofit, said he can’t imagine sending a child to Haiti under the current circumstances. Gangs have launched deadly attacks on neighborhoods, forcing the displacement of tens of thousands of people and blocked critical access roads out of the capital. Meanwhile, anti-government protests throughout the country have led to the looting of United Nations and charity warehouses outside of Port-au-Prince. The U.N. has asked the United States and other countries to halt all deportations because of the dire humanitarian crisis.
A lot of hospitals have either closed or reduced their services, and Haiti’s only children’s hospital, St. Damien Pediatric Hospital, located in Tabarre, not far from the U.S. Embassy, saw its doctors kidnapped. “The access to cardiac care even in the best of times has been extremely challenging,” said Wilentz. “Right now just getting through the barricades…is incredibly difficult; getting adequate cardiac care in Haiti is near nil.”
Ector’s fate now rests with DCF and Izquierdo. State Rep. Dotie Joseph recently wrote to the child welfare agency asking officials to examine the case and consider the baby’s “best interest” for placement. Her pleas were joined by those of Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center and Miami Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.
In their dismissed federal lawsuit, the Simmonses argued that Ector, “as a U.S. citizen, enjoys certain protections guaranteed to him under the U.S. Constitution.” Lawyers added that these include “his right…to remain safe and sound with his parental figures in the United States…rather than being sent to live in poverty and chaos with a grandparent he does not know.”
Even before the latest crisis, the U.S. acknowledged that conditions were so dangerous in Haiti that Haitians in the United States without legal status needed Temporary Protected Status to allow them to live and work without fear of deportation. And with the country currently classified as a Level Four security risk, U.S. citizens are advised not to travel “due to kidnapping, crime and civil unrest.”
REMOVED FROM MOM’S CARE AT SIX DAYS OLD
Ector’s odyssey began just six days after his birth in Broward County when a court removed him from the care of his mother, a U.S. citizen who lacked custody of her six previous children, and placed him with the Simmonses, with whom he has remained since leaving the hospital. Three months later, DCF sought to terminate his mother’s parental rights, with Judge Izquierdo ruling on June 1 that it was in Ector’s best interest to do so. While he said DCF intended to place Ector with his maternal grandmother, which would “reunite the child with a sibling and would place him in proximity to his father,” Izquierdo also cited adoption in Florida as a goal. In the federal court filing, the Simmonses noted that “for reasons unknown,” DCF has taken no action to terminate the parental rights of the father “despite conspicuous abandonment.”
Tamara Simmons notes that the circuit court judge denied a request to have Ector be assigned his own private attorney to represent his rights. “If you’re trying to figure out the best interest of a child, you should be looking at all the homes,” she said.
U.N. TAKES ACTION AGAINST HAITIAN GANGS
Last month, the United Nations Security Council, recognizing the security and humanitarian crises in Haiti, voted unanimously to sanction Haitian gangs and those who financially support and arm them. The council is also mulling a U.S.-backed resolution to send in a specialized armed force to assist the Haitian national police in unblocking roads and seaports and the main fuel terminal from a powerful gang so that humanitarian aid can start to flow once more.
According to the U.N.’s leading child welfare agency, UNICEF, social unrest, gang violence and a resurgence of cholera has affected over 2.4 million children in Haiti. “Nearly a thousand kidnappings have been reported in 2022 alone, and general insecurity continues to prevent millions of children from attending classes, isolates entire neighborhoods, and leaves families extorted and burnt in their own homes,” Helen La Lime, the United Nations secretary-general’s special representative in Haiti told the U.N. Security Council recently. The report she submitted on behalf of Secretary-General António Guterres painted an even grimmer picture: children shot indiscriminately by gangs as their parents attempted to flee the terror, others becoming witnesses to the rape of their mothers. In some instances, gangs targeting children as young as one. “Armed violence linked to gangs has had devastating consequences for children. Many were killed or injured in crossfire while in their homes, in school or on the streets,” the report said. “ Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes, leaving hundreds of children separated from their families and/or unaccompanied.” The report also notes that in addition to the lack of fuel and potable water, hunger is growing with an estimated 5.6 million Haitians having difficulty getting food. The persistent social unrest in and out of the capital, the U.N. said, is driving “persistent malnutrition” among children, especially those under five.
Miami Herald Deputy Investigations Editor Carol Marbin Miller contributed to this report.
This story was originally published October 23, 2022 11:52 AM. JACQUELINE CHARLES
Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article267670387.html#storylink=cpy
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My Comments—
John A. Carroll, MD
www.haitianhearts.org
I am a physician from Peoria who gets to live my dream in Haiti.
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