Diaspora

‘Ansly’s Army’ asked to re-up in fight against latest deportation proceedings – cleveland.com

In this file photo, Haitian immigrant Ansly Damus, released after two years in jail, is greeted by his sponsors, Melody Joy Hart and Gary Benjamin, at the ICE Headquarters in Brooklyn Heights on Nov. 30, 2018. (Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer) The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — A relatively free man for three years after spending the previous two incarcerated by federal immigration authorities, Haitian refugee Ansly Damus now faces yet another round of deportation proceedings.
And with that, the forces of “Ansly’s Army,” who fought to get him out of a windowless jail cell in Chardon in 2018, will be summoned again.
Cleveland Heights Councilwoman Melody Joy Hart and her husband, Gary Benjamin — who visited Damus regularly in jail, then served as his American sponsors upon his release — provided an update, thanking everyone “for being there when Ansly needed you,” in a group email sent out Friday (Nov. 26).
“After getting his own apartment and car over a year ago and a good job in a copper alloy plant, Ansly has been sending money home to Haiti, supporting six kids — including his two,” Benjamin noted.
In addition to paying tuition (“in Haiti, there is no public education as we know it”), the former ethics teacher whose life was threatened repeatedly by political gangs sent 1,000 face masks home when COVID-19 hit. He also helped his wife and brother buy a house and a business, Benjamin said.
“But despite this, his last appeal was denied on Nov. 2 and he was told he would be ‘removed’ by Dec. 2 if he did not appeal (that),” Benjamin explained. “That is another reason to thank you all — we had already raised the funds to pay for this moment when he first was released and living with us.”
The appeal for political asylum was filed Nov. 24 with the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, which has the discretion to decide whether to hold an oral hearing.
“He is safely here until this appeal ends, and we hope it ends favorably,” Benjamin and Hart noted.
Rather than the American Civil Liberties Union, which went to bat for him in the early going, Damus now has an experienced appellate attorney with a firm that has represented immigrants from all over the world.
“But we are not only relying on the asylum appeal,” Benjamin and Hart wrote. “Ansly has filed for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which the new administration is offering to all Haitians because of the condition of Haiti right now. We expect that will be granted during the pendency of his appeal.”
That could give Damus, 45, time to start classes at Cuyahoga Community College in January to pursue a certificate in electrical engineering.
“He was an engineer in Port au Prince running a brewery for a while and has a degree in something like industrial engineering,” Benjamin said.
Hart and Benjamin noted earlier that their house received a nice upgrade when Damus was released from the Geauga County Safety Center — it was listed as the “Detroit Field Office” for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Damus had to wear an ankle bracelet.
Although Damus had been granted asylum twice by a judge, ICE appealed those rulings, arguing that while he was making his way to the U.S. he had spent too much time — 18 months — in Brazil to be considered a Haitian refugee anymore.
This time around, his initial appeal was denied by a Homeland Security in-house court appointed by former President Donald Trump called the “Board of Immigration Appeals,” Benjamin explained.
“Ansly’s Army” earlier wrote letters to public officials in support of Damus and demonstrated outside ICE offices. Benjamin and Hart are again rallying the troops.
Another regular visitor for Damus at the Geauga County Safety Center was Molly Brudnick of Shaker Heights.
Once sprung and ensconced in Cleveland Heights, Damus was paid a visit by a news crew from CBS Sunday Morning for a feature segment that aired in June 2019.
“Molly has contacted Ted Koppel’s producer, who has said she will get him to write a letter in support of Ansly to the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security (Alejandro Mayorkas),” Benjamin said. “We hope this will at least speed up the TPS application.”
Letters or emails on Damus’ behalf are encouraged to contact Mayorkas, as well as U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and newly elected Congresswoman Shontel Brown.
“As to getting his family here — TPS does not allow that, but asylum does,” Benjamin and Hart noted. “The ultimate goal is asylum.”
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