By Larisa Karr
NEW YORK — The family of an Elizabeth, New Jersey man “unexpectedly” deported to Haiti is speaking out against the practice of sending back Haitian Americans convicted for non-immigration-related crimes. In a publicity campaign underway, they said Patrick Julney was expelled despite a pending appeal based on fear of returning to a native country filled with unrest and violence.
Julney, 38, is now being held in a Port-au-Prince jail along with scores of others unlikely to be released, given the Haitian justice system’s own travails since gangs took over its main courthouse in June.
“Him going to the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince was definitely not one of the things that I expected,” Julney’s wife Laura McMaster said in an interview with The Haitian Times Wednesday. “I’m not going to stop talking about it because it’s something that definitely needs to be changed.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported Julney to Haiti on June 7 after more than a decade in the prison system. His case highlights a 1996 criminal expulsion law that allows non-citizens convicted of felony crimes to be deported and why it shouldn’t be enforced for Haitians, families and advocates have said, given inhuman conditions they face in Haiti.
People like Julney who criticized conditions at detention facilities seem to be targets for such expulsion, his family says.
“We are trying to figure out a means of getting him,” said his lawyer, Eleni Bakst, prior to his deportation. “We have described to different levels of courts that the conditions are not safe.”
Julney had lived in America since he was four years old, but was not a United States citizen. His journey began when he was convicted in 2010 for drug charges and first-degree robbery in Elizabeth, which he repeatedly disputed. Over the past 12 years, he was transferred to multiple prisons, including a stint at the Bergen County Jail in 2019. Most recently, he was in a detention center in Louisiana.
“When they moved him to Louisiana, we didn’t have any visits besides a video call,” said McMaster. “We hoped one day that we would have the chance to be connected to each other and then when this happened, our only connection right now is fear.”
It was in Louisiana that he was removed from his cell on June 6 and sent on a plane to Haiti the following day. He was fingerprinted and released upon arrival, where his uncle came to pick him up, according to McMaster. But, before they could leave the airport, police arrived and detained Julney. She said they claimed he was involved in associations with gangs.
McMaster said that he told her that once arriving in Haiti, he hoped to immediately try to get a visa to head to the Dominican Republic.
“At first I thought it was just a routine thing they’re dealing with in Haiti since there’s no government,” McMaster said. “This is outrageous. I just don’t understand the whole concept of it.”
Immigration law allows deportation of longtime residents
It was the father-of-two’s outspokenness against jail conditions that made him a target for expulsion. McMaster said she plans to continue raising awareness about Julney’s deportation, as she believes there are many other Haitian-Americans who are going through a similar ordeal.
In years past, at least several people in the New York area have shared similar stories publicly. People such as Jean Montrevil, who was deported from the U.S. in 2018. His family and supporters said the Virginia man, who had lived in the country for 20 years, was targeted for deportation because of his immigration activism work.
In 2020, another man identified by his initials, J.B., to avoid stigma, told The Haitian Times about being deported after serving time for illegal possession of firearms and drugs in New York. He bemoaned the life choices that landed him in prison and being sent to “hell” in Haiti.
Since 2021, more than 21,000 Haitians have been deported from the U.S., according to the U.N. International Organization for Migration (IOM). While most Haitians were deported through the use of Title 42, Julney’s expulsion was the result of the 1996 law.
To raise awareness, Julney’s family and advocates are calling for his immediate release. They also want ICE to “stop deporting Haitian immigrants to indefinite detention in Haiti.”
“Patrick and others are being held in Haitian prison without charges or seeing a judge,” one templated social media post reads. “By deporting Patrick, ICE not only retaliated against him for exposing conditions in detention, but also ignored his ongoing legal appeal for fear-based relief.”
“ICE, US politicians, and Haitian authorities all bear responsibility in this blatant human rights violation,” the post continues. “We must not be silent.”
Haiti conditions unfit to take in deportees
What’s different this year is that gang-controlled chaos reigns over Haiti’s courts, police and other law enforcement institutions. Following the assassination of the country’s last president, Jovenel Moïse, the government has fallen into disarray, with a political impasse stalling progress on creating a functioning government.
Just last week, the UN voted to extend its presence in Haiti in hopes of helping Haitian politicians move forward.
Haiti’s unrest has led to immigration advocates saying in the past two years that the country is no place for anyone to be returned. They have called for a halt to deportations.
In Port-au-Prince, Julney now joins a disorderly criminal justice system where 9,020 prisoners haven’t had a court appearance since 2018, according to a report from the United Nations. That amounts to 82% of Haiti’s total prison population.
From the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, Julney has described the brutal conditions of the jail, where inmates have to endure lack of food and clean water, 100-degree heat and a rat infestation. Along with several other inmates deported by ICE, Julney is being held without charges or a chance to see a judge.
“My legs are swollen. We don’t eat if our people don’t bring us food,” Julney said in a statement to his lawyer, Eleni Bakst. “We’re in here for no reason, there’s no charges against us.”
Back in New Jersey, the family felt compelled to raise awareness about the immigration laws and conditions in Haiti they must endure.
“We’re hoping for the best, and with everyone listening, that’s the only way things are going to change,” McMaster said. “There [are] other family members that I’m sure are going through the same thing I’m going through, but maybe they don’t have the access to do anything publicly because they’re afraid of what could happen to their loved ones.”
Staff reporter Leonardo March contributed to this report.