FILE – Haitians deported from the United States step off a plane at Toussaint Louverture International Airport, Sept. 19, 2021, in Port-au-Prince. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph, File)

SAN JUAN (AP) — Paul Pierrilus was deported from the United States to Haiti two years ago, where he tried to survive in a chaotic and violent country where he was never born and never lived. .

Both of his parents are Haitians, but emigrated to the French Caribbean territory of Saint-Martin, where Pierrilus was born. The family did not apply for citizenship for him in either Haiti or St. Maarten, and they later moved to the United States when he was 5 years old. He grew up in New York speaking English.

Deported – after a long delay – because he was convicted two decades ago in a drug case, Pierrilus is now in Haiti, where he does not speak Haitian Creole, has been unable to find work and has few savings waiting to find a way to leave this increasingly unstable country.

“You have to be mentally tough to deal with this stuff,” Pierrilus said. “A country where people are kidnapped every day. A country where people are murdered. You must be strong”.

The 42-year-old financial consultant spends most of his days cooped up in a house reading self-help, business and marketing books in a neighborhood where gunshots often ring out.

Pierrilus’ attorneys in the United States are still fighting his deportation order, leaving him in limbo as President Joe Biden’s administration steps up deportations to Haiti despite calls from activists for them to be temporarily halted in because of the growing chaos in this Caribbean country.

Her case has become emblematic of what some activists say is the discrimination faced by Haitian migrants in the overburdened US immigration system. More than 20,000 Haitians have been deported from the United States in the past year, and thousands more continue to flee Haiti on risky boat trips that sometimes end in mass drowning.

Cases like that of Pierrilus, where people are deported to a country where they have never lived, are rare, but they do occur occasionally.

Jimmy Aldaoud, born to Iraqi parents in a refugee camp in Greece and whose family immigrated to the United States in 1979, was deported to Iraq in 2019 after racking up multiple felony convictions. In failing health and unable to speak the language of Iraq, he died a few months later, a case frequently cited by activists.

Pierrilus’ parents took him to the United States so that he could have a better life and receive a better education.

In his early twenties, he was convicted of selling crack cocaine. Since he was not a U.S. citizen, Pierrilus was transferred from criminal detention to immigration detention, where he was deemed a Haitian citizen due to his ancestry and was deported to Haiti.

Pierrilus managed to delay the eviction by filing several legal challenges. Because he was not considered a danger to the community or a fear of flight, he was released, given work authorization, and ordered to report annually to immigration authorities.

He went on with his life and became a financial planner.

Then, in February 2021, he was kicked out without notice, and his lawyers aren’t sure exactly why his circumstances changed.

Lawyers for the nonprofit Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization in Washington took up his case.

“We demand that the Biden administration bring Paul home,” said Sarah Decker, an attorney for the organization.

The island of Saint-Martin does not automatically confer French nationality on people born on its territory to foreign parents, and their family has not requested it. Nor have they formally applied for Haitian citizenship, to which Pierrilus is entitled.

Although he can obtain Haitian citizenship, his lawyers have argued that he is not currently a Haitian citizen, has never lived there and should not be deported to a country experiencing such a situation. political instability.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in a brief general statement to The Associated Press that every country has an obligation under international law to accept the return of its citizens who are not eligible to stay. in the United States or another country. An ICE spokeswoman said no further information could be provided about Pierrilus’ case, including what evidence the US government has that he is a suspected Haitian citizen and why it took 13 years before that he is suddenly expelled.

In 2005, the Immigration Appeals Board rejected an appeal by Pierrilus’ previous lawyers to stop his deportation, saying “it is not necessary for the respondent to be a citizen of Haiti for that country to be designated as his country of deportation.” Decker, his current attorney, disagrees with that conclusion.

Pierrilus mentioned that while he was being deported, he told the immigration officers, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not where they’re trying to send me from.”

Submitted and handcuffed, he confessed to having ceased to resist. When he boarded, he remembered women screaming and children crying. Pierrilus did not know when or if he would see his family and friends again.

After being processed at the airport, someone lent Pierrilus a cell phone so he could call his parents. They gave him the contact of a family friend where he could stay temporarily. Since then, gang violence has forced him to move to two other homes.

The fighting gangs have extended their control of the Haitian capital to around 60% since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021. They loot neighborhoods, rape women and shoot civilians.

The UN warned in January that Haitians are experiencing their worst humanitarian emergency in decades. Last year, more than 1,350 kidnappings were reported, more than double the previous year. Murders rose 35%, with more than 2,100 reported.

Pierrilus says he saw a man walking through his neighborhood being shot in the head when shells shattered his car windows and pierced him.

“Can you create it? This guy is running around trying to flee the area. I don’t know what happened to this man,” he said.

As a result, he rarely goes out, relying on his faith to keep hope alive. He says he stopped going to church after watching a live-streamed ceremony in April 2021 in which gangs broke into the church and kidnapped a pastor and three parishioners.

Pierrilus speaks with his parents at least once a week, focusing on the progress of his case rather than the challenges he faces in Haiti.

He was hesitant to share his first impressions of his parents’ homeland when he arrived in the Caribbean country two years ago.

“I had mixed feelings,” he said. “I wanted to see what it was like in my time, not in these circumstances.”

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