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After Two Years In ICE Custody, Haitian Asylum Seeker Paroled In Cleveland

A Haitian man who is seeking asylum in the U.S. was released on Friday from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Brooklyn Heights. Lawyers for Ansly Damus, 42, say that he spent over two years in jail waiting for his claim to be resolved and that he was the victim of a Trump administration policy of denying asylum seekers parole in order to deter other migrants.

A smiling Damus walked out of ICE custody and embraced a couple from Cleveland Heights who’ve sponsored his parole. Asked what he wanted to do first, Damus, a Baptist, said he wants to go to church.

“Tell God, ‘thank you,’ Damus said. “I know God blessed me.”

Damus used to be a teacher in Haiti but said he fled after he was attacked by a gang for calling a government official corrupt. In October 2016, he came to the U.S. seeking asylum. Twice his request was granted, only to be appealed by the government which maintains Damus is ineligible. His case remains in limbo.

Cleveland Heights residents Melody Hart and Gary Benjamin have agreed to house Damus while he waits for his asylum claim to be heard a third time. Hart said she believes that the Trump administration's policies on asylum seekers have been driven by anti-immigrant bias.

“These are people who are fleeing danger,” Hart said. “They've not done anything wrong, and I think we need to welcome them.”

In addition to his asylum claim, Damus is the lead plaintiff in an ACLU class action lawsuit that argues ICE unlawfully denied parole to at least a thousand asylum seekers. That case is ongoing.

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