Rochester Family Torn Apart After Dad Deported




Reginald Castel was deported last Tuesday. The United States government flew him to Haiti in shackles, leaving him on an island he had not seen since he was 8 years old. He does not speak the language of his native country. When the plane landed, he knew no one there.

Castel, 44, went to Gates-Chili High School, sold cars for Vision Hyundai and lived with his family on Bay Street. His sole memory of Haiti was of the house with a metal roof where he lived as a boy. He was in despair as he flew to the island, handcuffed with 12 other Haitians and 49 men from the Dominican Republic.

“I was scared to death,” he said. “I am on the plane just praying to God.”

The plane landed in Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince. The deportees were handed over to Haitian officials who were friendly, at first. When the American officials left, deportees were told to hand over any money in their pockets if they wanted to call someone to pick them up. If no one came, they would be taken to prison.

Castel only had 8 cents, but he was allowed to call his mother in Greece. She had been frantically trying to find a relative or friend to go and get him. She told him that someone had managed to track down his estranged father, whom he had not seen or spoken to since he left Haiti at age 8.

It was his father who arrived to pick him up.  “I did not even recognize the man,” Castel said.  “One of the officials told me it was my father.”

They hugged each other. His father doesn’t speak English so they were unable to communicate much. Castel said his father pointed to his heart to express love. He pointed to his head to say don’t stress and don’t worry.  “He said ‘it has been a long time,’” said Castel. “I understood that.”

They left the facility with Castel’s one bag. It contained the clothes he was wearing  when immigration officials took him into custody on Aug. 10, a pack of oatmeal, some legal papers and a 30-day supply of insulin to treat his severe diabetes.

Until Aug. 10, Castel was among more than 900,000 immigrants in the United States living under final orders of removal, or deportation, that had not been enforced. Deportation officials generally focused on people considered to be a threat to national security.

 “They didn’t make me a priority under George Bush or Obama,” Castel said, by phone, from a home of his father’s friend in Port au Prince. Under the Trump administration, things have changed.

“With the executive order from President Trump, everybody with a removal order is at risk,” said Wedade Abdallah, program director for immigration for Legal Aid Society of Rochester.

Castel was subject to deportation because he pled guilty to a felony in 1999, after a dispute with his friend Reginald McQueen turned violent. Castel said that McQueen started chasing him with a knife and he ran to his truck to get a gun. “I defended myself,” he said. “I shot Reginald.”

At the time, Castel was a permanent resident with a green card, having come to the United States with his mother at age 8. He was eligible for citizenship, but hadn’t filled out the paperwork. His public defender advised him to plead guilty to assault to avoid risking the lengthy prison sentence that could result from being found guilty in a trial.

The lawyer did not tell him that a guilty plea, and his lack of citizenship, would make him eligible for deportation. Castel served six years in jail. When he was released, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security picked him up and held him in a detention center for 18 months as he appealed his deportation order.He was granted deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture act because a judge ruled that his lack of ties in Haiti, combined with his need for daily insulin would likely cause him to die in the impoverished country. He was released in 2007 under an order of supervision.The federal government appealed this deferral and won, reinstating the deportation order against him. In 2011, Castel lost his final appeal. But he was not deported.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement gave him permission to work legally and required him to check in periodically. Castel built a career, got married, stayed out of legal trouble and never missed a check-in appointment, including one in Batavia on Aug. 10. His wife Lashanda waited for him outside as he went into the meeting. When she saw him next, he was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car. He was not allowed to get out of the car to give her a hug goodbye.

Every time she saw him after that was through glass at immigration detention centers.

“How do they tear a family apart and think nothing of it?” Lashanda Castel asked. “Where is the humanity in this?”

The laws that led to Castel’s deportation have long been on the books. President Donald Trump is just enforcing them, as promised in his campaign. Five days after his inauguration, Trump issued executive orders directing executive departments and agencies  “to employ all lawful means to enforce the immigration laws of the United States.”

He criticized previous administrations for failing to remove people with deportation orders. “We cannot faithfully execute the immigration laws of the United States if we exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” the president wrote.

In the past undocumented immigrants who had long histories of obeying the law and living quiet lives were not deportation priorities.  Trump’s executive orders have changed things, said Wedade Abdallah, program director for immigration for the Legal Aid Society of Rochester. “We are seeing a more unpredictable type of enforcement,” she said. “It could be anybody (with a final removal order) at this point.” She said she would encourage any immigrant who has a final order of removal to speak to an immigration attorney.

“Make America great,” Lashanda Castel said, with bitterness. “Let’s get the immigrants out of here.” She believes the government ought to make allowances for people like her husband, who has turned his life around and stayed out of trouble for more than a decade.

Reginald McQueen, the man shot by Castel in 1999, agrees. He made a statement in support of Castel that appears in a petition asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pardon Castel for his crime. Such a pardon would make it possible to reinstate his green card. “An unfortunate incident occurred that caused me harm and got Reggie arrested. However, it was the result of a personal problem between us and we have become friends again,” McQueen wrote, adding that he does not want to see Castel deported. ”I am satisfied that he has paid his debt to society and to me and I don’t think he should be punished any more for what he did. I have my health back and my life back and I would like Reggie to have his life back, too.”

Castel’s life is now spent in a spare room in the home of his father’s friend, a man who speaks a bit of English. Electricity comes and goes, sometimes for days. Clean drinking water is hard to come by. It is hot. Castel has been warned not to go out alone. His lack of language skills makes him an obvious outsider and easy target for desperate criminals found in a country where people must survive on an average of $2.25 a day.

So he sits in the house, waiting for his father to get out of work. He has time to wonder about another deportee he met on the plane who also had no connections in Haiti because he had grown up in Bermuda. “I am pretty sure he ended up in prison,” he said. He wonders what would have become of him if his father hadn’t been found. And, most painfully, he misses his family. He and his wife have a blended family of seven children. His youngest child, a daughter, has taken the situation very hard. There has not been a time they’ve spoken on the phone that she was not in tears. “They took someone who is loved,” said his wife.

She also cries. But she knows that tears won’t help her husband return to the United States. If getting him home proves impossible in the short term, she must find a way to get him a stable supply of insulin. Castel suffers with Type 1 diabetes that his physician assistant at Anthony Jordan Health Center called “severe, chronic and incurable.”  It requires daily insulin shots, which are extremely difficult to get in Haiti. Castel’s plans to visit the Diabetes Association in Port au Prince have been disrupted by unrest and violence on the streets.

Lashanda Castel is trying to navigate the permits, licenses and fees that would allow her to ship insulin to Haiti. She has applied for her passport so she can visit her husband, though she is concerned about U.S. State Department warnings about the risks of traveling to Haiti, including violent crime, instability and lack of adequate medical facilities.

She is buoyed by a group of local supporters including Rochester City School Board President Van White, who is also an attorney and volunteered to submit Castel’s petition for the governor’s pardon. The petition includes statements of support from his boss at Vision Hyundai, the bishop of his church and many friends and family members. Rochester City School Board member Mary Adams continues to rally community activists to fight for his cause and to lobby Gov. Cuomo to pardon him quickly.

Adams was among the people who went to the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility to try to block the bus when Castel was being taken away for deportation. They could not see him through the tinted windows of the bus, but he saw them standing, praying and protesting his deportation. “I felt hopeful,” he said. “I had people in my corner.”

Those people will host an “Updates and Organizing to Support Reggie Castel and Family” meeting at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Freedom School, 630 N. Goodman Street. All are welcome, said Adams, to join the effort to bring Castel home.

For now, he remains in Port au Prince. He has learned how to say “please,” “thank you,” “I’m hungry,” and “water” in Kreyol.  His hope for a return to Bay Street remains. His insulin is running out.

By: Erica Bryant | September 29, 2017


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