The U.S Senate Committee on the Judiciary - Subcommittee on Immigration
Testimony before theSenate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on ImmigrationOn the Detention and Treatment of Haitian Asylum Seekers
October 1, 2002
Marie Jocelyn Ocean
Haitian Asylee and Former INS Detainee
Good afternoon. My name is Marie Jocelyn Ocean and I am from Haiti. On behalf of all of the asylum seekers still in detention, I would like to thank you for honoring me with the opportunity to speak to you today about our experience and the treatment we have received here in the United States.
I was forced to flee Haiti because I was being persecuted by members of Lavalas, a gang that supported the government. My family was politically active and we all spoke out against Lavalas. Because he spoke out, my father was killed. My brother was very active in politics, and he was also killed. My other brother was stabbed by Lavalas and he almost died. They even hurt our children. My brother's son was beaten. The found my daughter who was nine years old then, and they kicked her in the mouth. When my life was in danger because they were threatening me and came after me, I had no other choice but to flee because there was no one to protect me in Haiti. So I got on that boat with all the other people to flee Haiti and find freedom somewhere else. We did not know where we would land, only that we had to flee Haiti to save our lives. The US Coast Guard and INS picked us up at sea on December 3, 2001.
I came to the United States for peace, freedom and protection. And because I am speaking to you here today, you know that I have found freedom here, and for that I am grateful. On May 31, 2002, the
Immigration Judge granted me asylum here in the United States because of the persecution I suffered in Haiti. I am the lucky one though. I am the only Haitian woman from TGK that I know of who has been granted asylum so far, although I know that many of the other women I was detained with also suffered terribly in Haiti. Yet they continue to suffer because they are still detained.
Like me, all the other Haitian women came here seeking freedom from oppression. We did not leave our homes because of hunger or lack of food, we left because of the political violence in Haiti. So when we first arrived we thought the Americans would treat us with dignity and that they would protect us after what we had suffered. We knew there to be laws in this country to protect victims of abuse and torture. So I was shocked by how they treated us. Instead of finding freedom, we were thrown in jail. We were treated worse than nothing, we were treated as criminals. There was almost no one to help us when we were in detention. Even though the laws were too complicated for us to understand alone, our detention made it very difficult for us to get access to lawyers and we had to go to court very quickly.
Being detained made it so much harder for us to even have a chance incourt. At first I was taken to a local hotel in Miami with many of
the other women. There were four women, including me, and a little seven year old girl in my room, who I was not related to. We were locked in that room together all day. We were not allowed out of our rooms, and we had nothing to do, there were no activities and we had no exercise. No one could come to see us there and we felt terribly isolated and alone, also because we could not communicate with most of the guards because they did not speak Creole. I was at the hotel for more than two months and in all that time I was only able to breathe fresh air on four days- three times when I went to court and once when I was taken to Krome for visitation. Sometimes I felt as if I was suffocating and my heart would begin to race because we were locked in that small space together for so long. It was impossible to know what was happening or what we should do because there was no one to explain anything to us because the lawyers can't come to the hotel. So I went to court alone without understanding what I was supposed to do or anything that was happening, which was terrifying. One day the officer yelled, "Ocean, court!" and I left thinking I had a hearing. But they did not take me to court. They took me to jail, to TGK. They took my picture and they strip-searched me. I was so afraid I was about to be deported. I was completely humiliated, and it seemed so unnecessary to treat us like that. But they do this to all the women, not just me.
I never understood what was happening until I got an attorney. At night when I would try to sleep at the jail they would flash lights in our eyes and bang on our doors, and it would startle me terribly. Sometimes it made me remember bad things that happened in Haiti. Many of the officers yelled at us a lot and we didn't understand why. They scared me a lot. Whenever I tried to tell my lawyer about my experience in Haiti, it was difficult to concentrate because we were in a place that was only adding to our misery.
It was at the jail though that I met staff from FIAC and they were able to help me and represent me in court. If I didn't have a lawyer Iwould never have been able to tell the judge my story because the laws are very difficult to understand here. We were supposed to fill out our asylum applications in English, but none of us speak English and many of us cannot read or write. There were very few organizations like FIAC that understood the laws and could help us when we were in detention. Many of the other women were not as lucky as me though and did not find anyone to help them. If it had not been for FIAC, no one would have helped us at all. Most of the women had to go to court and speak to the judge by themselves. I am very lucky because FIAC represented me and I won my case in court and now I am free. But my heart cries for the women that are still there and who did not have a lawyer to help them speak to the judge.
Now some of the Haitian women have been deported and forced to return to the place of our nightmares. The problems we fled in Haiti have only gotten worse since we left. There has been even more violence recently in the streets, and there was even a prison close to the neighborhood where we come from, Raboteau, that was broken into and the prisoners freed. There is no rule of law in Haiti, only chaos. How can they return people to a place like that, people who did not have lawyers in court and who did not have a chance to tell the judge what happened to them? My heart breaks for the Haitians from my boat who are still in detention, it has been almost ten months for them now. They came here because they were afraid for their lives. The women I was in the jail with have been transferred to a different place now, but they still have not been released. I cannot understand this because everyone else from every other country was quickly released while the Haitians have stayed in detention. This has made it even more difficult for us, to watch so many other women from other countries come in and quickly get released. I didn't think the United States would treat people differently just because of the place they were born, I thought everyone was equal here. But we were not treated like everyone else, even though we are all human and we all have the same blood. It became clear to us that the only reason we were in jail indefinitely is because we are Haitian. But I still cannot understand why the Haitians are kept in detention and all the others are released.
I pray that my words today will somehow help the Haitians that are still imprisoned. Thank you for listening to me today.