Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Tale of Two Prisoners:

Last March, John and I met Father Gerry Jean-Juste at his parish, St. Clare’s in a poor section of Port-au-Prince. We attended Mass there and were impressed by Father’s energetic and prayerful advocacy for the poor. At the end of Mass, Father had a little girl, Raphaella, who was badly burned on her face, arms, and torso, come up on the alter. He asked the congregation to help this six-year-old and her family, who had spent all their money on Raphaella’s care, when she was burned by an exploding propane tank. Raphaella’s skin was still healing; the scar tissue was hardening around her mouth and arm, making them difficult to move.

After Mass, we approached Father Jean-Juste and told him we would try to find a hospital in the States for Raphaella. Fast forward several months: thanks to a phone call I answered while in the shower from an angel I had never met named Keri, Raphaella was accepted by Boston Shriners Hospital. This fine institution agreed to provide her with surgery at no cost to her or us.

In the meantime, Father Jean-Juste was arrested on bogus charges and imprisoned. This is the second time Father has been imprisoned for no reason, other than advocating for the poor. We visited him in September and again in December. At the second visit, John examined Father, as the lymph nodes in his neck and under his arms were noticeably swollen. John participated in a press conference in PAP, arranged by American lawyer Bill Quigley, stating that Father was seriously ill and needed treatment.

Around the time of our second visit to Father, Rose, our friend in PAP, accompanied Raphaella and her mother to the U.S. consulate to apply for visas. The hospital required a legal guardian to accompany Raphaella. We had also thought it best that a parent be with Raphaella as she underwent what could be a painful and lengthy surgery and recovery. The consulate official granted Raphaella a visa but denied her mother, based on his belief that she would not return to Haiti.

Rose sent letters to the Inspector General of the State Department, the host family had their congress person contact the consulate, and we wrote the following letter asking the consulate to reconsider their decision.

To Whom It May Concern:

Haitian Hearts is sponsoring the trip of Raphaella Alexandre, a Haitian minor, to Boston Shriners for medical care, with her initial appointment on January 18. Raphaella was severely burned and will be having reconstructive surgery. Boston Shriners is requiring that one of Raphella's legal guardians accompany Raphaella to the U.S. for medical care.

The U.S. Consulate has approved Raphaella for a visa to come to the U.S. for treatment but denied a visa for her mother. We are respectfully requesting the consulate to reconsider this decision and grant Audanise Alexandre-Saint Felix a visa. Without her mother accompanying her, Raphaella will not be able to receive medical treatment. Raphaella and her mother will return to Haiti after the completion of Raphaella's medical treatment, and we will have them verify this by checking in with the U.S. consulate.

If you have any questions about this, please e-mail me at drjohn@mtco.com. Thank you very much for your help with this matter.


John A. Carroll, M.D.
Medical DirectorHaitian Hearts

A couple days later, we received this disheartening response.

Date: Wed, 11 Jan 2006 12:15:17 -0500
From: "PAP, NIV" <PaPNIV@state.gov>
To: "'Realname'" <drjohn@mtco.com>
Subject: RE: NIV for Audanise Alexandre-Saint Felix

Dear Dr. Carroll:

This is to inform you that Ms. Audanise Saint Felix Alexandre was determinedto be ineligible for a B1/B2 visa under Section 214(b) of the Immigrationand Nationality Act. This section of law stipulates that all nonimmigrantvisa applicants must satisfy the interviewing consular officer that they areentitled to the type of visa for which they are applying and that they havesufficient ties to their country of residence, to overcome the presumptionof being an intending immigrant as required by law. Therefore, we wouldsuggest that the family designate a temporary guardian who will travel andcare for Raphaella during her stay in the United States.


The Nonimmigrant visa section

I was about ready to give up on getting Raphaella’s mom a visa. But that same week, I received the following letter from indefatigable Rose, our contact in PAP with the good news that both visas were being granted.

Dear Maria,
Both visas are for 1 year, until Jan. 12, 2007!
This will give the hospital a chance for more flexibility in the treatments if they think spreading them out is good, perhaps even an intermission at home in Haiti.

I received another message of refusal of a visa for Raphaella's mother late the day before yesterday, unsigned, expressing the same objections as usual, saying that based on the interview, the interviewer made an unalterable decision. This morning I started trying to reach Jay Smith at about 7:00. At 7:45, Jeanette Langston Duval, head of Non-Immigrant Visa Division answered his number and repeated all the arguments again at some length. I told her I had been present and there had been nothing resembling an interview. The interviewer told me he was not even required to read anything in the file. He knew that the woman was a high risk for returning to Haiti. I spoke of how familiar I was with all the circumstances and that I would stake my life on their returning to Haiti, and that we needed to know people well enough to protect our credibility for the sake of all those other sick people, principally the children, that we needed to bring to them. She agreed to speak to Jay Smith and call me back by 11.

At that point I think Mr. Smith's probable awareness of the efforts and complaints of many people to help this child and mother came into play. At 8:30 came a call from J. Langston Duval saying the visas would be ready this a.m. Just bring the passports down as quickly as possible.

She added that they were doing this for me as an exception. This motivates me to write a final chapter to the State Department Inspector General about the ongoing flaws in the whole process because we cannot have occasional exceptions and spend such excessive and unnecessary labor on each request. I hope to get to that tomorrow and then on to Faustina.

Again, many thanks and blessings on all you and John do.


Things can change in a hurry, especially when Rose is on the case.

While much of this was going on, Dr. Paul Farmer e-mailed John that he was going to try to visit Father in jail. He did and was able to draw some blood and send it to a lab in Miami, which confirmed that Father has chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Now the pressure is really on to let Father out of jail—where he is being unjustly held anyway—so that he can receive appropriate medical treatment. Members of Congress, Amnesty International, doctors, Haitians, Americans, and family members are all vociferously calling for Father’s release. We hope and pray this happens soon.

I have booked the tickets for Raphaella and her mom to travel to Boston this weekend. It would be beyond cool if Father could be sprung from his prison at the same time that his parishioner Raphaella is being sprung, however temporarily, from her poverty.

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