Jules Letemps thought he would be celebrating. On October 14, 2016, he was exonerated of the 1989 rape of a woman in Orlando, Florida, after serving 27 years in prison. Letemps, now 53, had dreamed of this day: of seeing the ocean, attending Baptist church with his mother, and reconnecting with his extended family and three children. Most importantly, he could finally prove that he was innocent.
But Letemps is not a U.S. citizen. And instead of being freed, he was transferred to immigration detention because of a 30-year-old drug conviction. He now resides at the Glades County Detention Center, a rural Florida facility, facing deportation to Haiti, a country he left when he was 17 years old.
As a new president mobilizes the machinery of immigration enforcement to purge America of “criminal aliens,” the case of Jules Letemps is a stark reminder of how unforgiving the system was already, even before the arrival of Donald J. Trump.
Letemps came to Florida in 1981 on “humanitarian parole,” a temporary status granted to those fleeing their country for urgent humanitarian reasons. He had fled Haiti on a boat with his father and sister, among thousands of Haitians who emigrated due to political unrest and economic turmoil. Immigration officials revoked his parole after he was convicted of the rape, and planned to try and deport him after he served his sentence. Cleared of the sexual assault, Letemps thought his problems were over.
But there is no statute of limitations in immigration law. Immigrants can be deported for criminal convictions no matter how long ago they occurred or how meritorious a life they have led since. A Marshall Project analysis found that roughly 20 percent of those deported for non-immigration offenses had committed their crimes over a decade ago.
“Mr. Letemps is an ICE priority due to his conviction on a felony cocaine distribution charge,” said Tammy Spicer, spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in an email. Spicer noted that ICE makes decisions about who to detain and place in removal proceedings based on factors including “current immigration status, criminal history,… and other humanitarian or medical conditions.”
While the Obama administration was far from lenient towards immigrants with any criminal record, President Trump has promised to be even more severe. In his first week in office, Trump signed an executive order that makes deporting “removable aliens” — including those charged with any criminal conviction — a top priority.
Letemps’ lawyer John Pratt offers two arguments. One is that sending the man back to Haiti would be an act of cruelty amounting to torture. It is common practice in Haiti to detain criminal deportees upon their arrival in cramped, unsanitary jails. In 2011, a Haitian man died in one such cell from cholera-like symptoms, days after he was deported from Florida. These conditions could be especially threatening for Letemps as he has already had two heart surgeries and high blood pressure.
“If Jules goes to Haiti, I’m going to lose him,” said his mother, Pierrecina Aurelus, who is now a U.S. citizen. “What is he going to do? He’s going to die.” But Letemps’ lawyers note that several Haitians in removal proceedings have already tried to make a similar case, and failed.
The other argument is that letting Letemps stay here would be a proper compensation for the 27 years he spent wrongfully imprisoned. He has almost no family left in Haiti, as most became naturalized American citizens while he was in prison.
“Because of the earlier drug conviction and the fact that he didn’t have a green card, it makes it particularly difficult to keep him in the country,” said Pratt. “[But] they can decide not to deport the person for humanitarian reasons…we have a gentleman who has truly suffered.”
Read the full article at The Marshall Project