On the last Sunday of Trump’s presidency, 9-year-old Vladimir was accompanying his brother, Christian, on a flight into San Francisco expecting to meet family members at the arrivals gate. Christian, 19, was to resume university classes two days later at a local university he attends. Vladimir had joined his brother to visit America and expected his mother to pick him up and fly back to Haiti in a couple of weeks. Having traveled to the U.S. several times without issue, the boys had no reason to believe there would be a problem.
Prevented from contacting their family or speaking with an attorney, Vladimir and Christian were detained and held for questioning by the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) before having their visas revoked. CBP put Christian on a plane to the Dominican Republic, a place where he has no legal status. Separated and alone, Vladimir got transferred to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center for unaccompanied children. The CBP claims the boys admitted to violating their visa requirements, though the confession comes with the caveat of denying either sibling legal counsel or guidance.
What could have flagged such drastic actions? Why separate a family who has been regularly, legally, traveling in and out of the U.S. for years? Milli Atkinson, the Legal Director of the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative, has suspicions. In an interview with Raise the Voices, Atkinson reflected, “There is very little supervision of the customs and border patrol officers and their discretion of what they can do in terms of the authority they have to take away a visa, revoke someone’s visa, and make these discretionary decisions that cause real harm to families, and in this case, a child.” Atkinson points out the dark reality of our broken immigration system stating, “A lot of the issues with systemic racism that exists in the criminal justice system also exist here in our immigration system.”
The family of Christian and Vladimir continue to try to put together the pieces of what happened and advocate to bring Vladimir back home to safety. In looking at the cruel and inhumane treatment of the forcefully separated family, Atkinson remarks, “we are concerned that maybe they were treated differently because they are Haitian, or because they’re black…if they had been from Europe or Canada, would they have been treated differently?”