Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

U.S. Visas Denied: The Story of How One Haitian Ex-Pat Can’t Get His Kids Out of Quake-Damaged Haiti

This Week in Haiti” is the English section of HAITI LIBERTE newsweekly. For
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the paper at (tel) 718-421-0162, (fax) 718-421-3471 or e-mail at
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by Alexander Contos, HAITI LIBERTE “Justice. Verite. Independance.”
February 10 – 16, 2010
Vol. 3, No. 30

* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *

U.S. VISAS DENIED: THE STORY OF HOW ONE HAITIAN EX-PAT CAN’T GET HIS KIDS OUT OF QUAKE-DAMAGED
HAITI

In the days following Haiti’s catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake, U.S. military
planes flew untold dozens of Haitian children – some of them orphans, some
not – to orphanages in the U.S. At the same time, Evens Colas, a naturalized
U.S. citizen, spent weeks petitioning the U.S. Embassy in Haiti to get his
own two Haitian-born children – ages 13 and 15 – whose mother has died, to
join him in Palm Bay, Florida where he lives. Up until now, he has not
succeeded.

Evens has had an interesting life, to say the least. Born in Haiti, he was
brought to the U.S. in 1963 when he was 2 years old. He attended Archbishop
Molloy High School in Queens, NY, run by the Catholic Marist brothers – an
order which originated in France in the early 19th century to educate young
people – and named as the most “Outstanding American High School” by U.S.
News and World Report, and an “Exemplary School” by the U.S. Department of
Education. All of Molloy’s graduates attend college, and Evens got a full
scholarship to pursue medical and chemistry studies at New York University.
But then he succumbed to his passion, music, particularly the guitar, which
he had been playing since he was 12. He soon became a famous lead guitarist,
named in 1986 by Guitar Player magazine as one of the world’s top 100 guitar
players. He has played in over 30 countries… and as many bands: Chaka Khan
(R&B), Bob Marley’s Wailers (Reggae), Zenglen (Kompa), Ayabombe (Haitian
Racine) are but a small sample.

“I always kept as a sideman,” he said, using the slang for a musician who
plays for various bands as an independent contractor. “I like to play
various types of music, so I jumped from band to band. I get quickly bored.”

Despite his success, a racist incident in Texas in 1993 prompted Evens to
return to Haiti for safety and to help his mother, who had also returned and
lived in Lilavois, La Plaine, a Port-au-Prince suburb.

Evens also wanted to contribute to Haiti’s development so he started an
agricultural business while teaching English at the Haitian-American
Institute and the Anis Zunuzi Baha’i School. He had thoroughly prepared
himself by studying hydroponics (or aquaculture) as well as Russian and
Israeli techniques to grow various crops on his family’s land, which would
have been difficult to produce traditionally. The business was so innovative
and successful that prominent Haitian agronomist Garvey Laurent, a former
Haitian Agriculture Minister, came to visit the garden, and the University
of Haiti’s Agriculture School at Damien started sending him students on a
regular basis. Evens also spoke at a national conference on agriculture.

Then Evens did the natural thing. He married a 25-year-old woman, Mireille,
who soon gave birth to two children: Evens Paul, born in June 1994, and
Melissa in November 1996. Evens was present for his daughter’s birth but not
for his son’s, although his mother assisted his wife in the delivery. He was
traveling abroad, playing music, from which he still got most of his income.

“As a musician, if you stay too long away, they forget you,” he explains.

In those years of the early 1990s, Haiti was in upheaval. President Aristide
had been ousted by a bloody military coup in 1991 and was in exile in
Washington DC while Haiti was under a UN embargo aimed at pressuring the
putschists. After Aristide’s return in October 1994 and the lifting of the
embargo, Evens took the first flight back home. He even remembers the price:
a hefty $720 for a one-way ticket on American Airlines.

Life continued between world music and Haitian business for several years.
He had a normal family life. Evens remembers the first words his daughter
learned were: Give me!

“We used to play with a ball on the bed, and I taught her to say: Give me!”
he recalls. “That was very bad! Then they learn to say these words for
everything, like ‘Give me money!'”

Then his wife Mireille died in 2004.

Haitian reality was to hit Evens even harder. In 1999, he had filed
documents to bring Mireille to the U.S. along with Evans Paul, Melissa, and
three other children his wife had prior to their marriage. U.S. Immigration
approved the request at the end of 2002, but Mireille was already sick and
could not even make it to the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince.

After Mireille’s death, Evens Paul lived with Evens’ mother, and Melissa
lived with her maternal grandmother, all in the same region. For children,
life was simpler and cheaper in Haiti where they could live relatively well
on $400 a month. Evens’ mother had a large house and Mireille’s mother had
lots of land.

In 2007, Evens again filed for a U.S. visa for his two children. Their birth
certificates indicate him as the father. In the U.S., authorities would
immediately grant the children citizenship. Yet, the U.S. embassy in
Port-au-Prince required DNA tests. Evens and his children did not match! The
shock from the rejected visa was nothing compared to discovering that,
according to these tests, he was not the biological father of his children.
He finds the test results very strange.

“Evens Paul looks a lot like me,” Evens notes. “When you show pictures of
the child and me at the same age, people think it’s the same boy.”

The test results naturally did not deter him from continuing to be their
father. “I am committed to my children,” he said. “I am going to protect
them, I am going to raise them, and I am going to make sure they become
honorable people”.

In his straightforward manner, Evens asked the U.S. embassy: “Well, I have
these two kids with birth certificates saying I am their father, but a DNA
test says I am not. What should I do to bring them to the U.S.?”

“Well, adopt them!” a U.S. embassy official replied.

To make a long story short, Evens found one of Haiti’s best lawyers, started
the adoption procedure in the U.S., took three months to gather the info,
did a home study, medical examination, psychological evaluation,
fingerprinting, FBI and police checks, and so on. An international adoption
is not simple or cheap; it set him back $6,000. He got clearance for the
adoption and returned to Haiti with a box full of documents. The first thing
the lawyer said when looking at the documents was:”You cannot adopt these
children with these papers. Your name is already on the birth certificates.”

In Haiti, a father cannot adopt his own children. The lawyer could have at
least looked at the documents beforehand and saved Evens a lot of time and
money. Evens is now stuck in limbo between two legal systems: no visa
possible in the U.S. but no adoption possible in Haiti.

Evens now had his back against the wall. He guesses that his lawyer probably
did not even bother to ask some of his Haitian political connections to step
in as Evens had requested. All the lawyer could propose was to change the
name of the father on the birth certificates. Evens refused. “We are going
to fight for this in a truthful way,” he said.

Despite his principles and dogged efforts, the U.S. bureaucracy wouldn’t
budge. “Talking to the State Department was like talking to a wall,” he
said. “It’s a shame. I am very disappointed in the U.S. government and
please use the word disappointed, I am extremely disappointed.”

Then the earthquake hit. Evens was able to fly down to Haiti within days –
by now his U.S. passport filled with Haitian stamps – thanks to friends at
church who paid for and put him on Missionary Flight International straight
to Port-au-Prince.

Evens Paul was at home in the capital when the quake struck. The house where
he was living cracked in two, and his school next door collapsed. Because of
a wave of kidnappings, the family had sent him to school in the capital,
under the guardianship of a family friend named Rose. Evens was able to
communicate with her by cellular telephone.

Melissa was at her school in the countryside, but fortunately not inside.
That school also collapsed although it was only 5 years old. “Eighty percent
of the walls have fallen down in La Plaine,” Evens explained. “It’s not far
from Port-au-Prince. This was a gigantic earthquake.”

When Evens and his kids showed up at the U.S. Embassy in Tabarre on Sunday,
January 24, it was surrounded by barricades and guarded by U.S. Marines. A
young Marine told them the embassy was closed, and he didn’t know when it
would open. They asked another soldier who said the embassy would open the
next day.

“At that point I was really shocked because I thought they would be working
24 hours a day,” Evens said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of doctors and other volunteers were flying into Haiti.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was reported to have been “up all
night” after the quake, helping coordinate the Obama Administration’s rescue
efforts.

“This is a very big tragedy,” Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher told
the AP the day after the quake, “but we’re all working hard to make sure
that we can deliver the kind of aid and support [Haiti needs] – and our
condolences too.”

Evens persisted and sat in a car outside the embassy. Eventually a Marine
came out and escorted him and the two children past the barricade. Even’s
mother, although a U.S. citizen, was not allowed in. “Only parents,” said
the guard.

Inside the barricade, they had to wait, although nobody else was there. The
officials in charge of these matters were “out to lunch” So they waited half
an hour in the scorching heat until the staff came back. Surely after the
earthquake, Evens thought, the Embassy would be more reasonable about
allowing him to take his kids home to Florida with him. Standing outside the
embassy, he showed two embassy employees all the documents, birth
certificates, marriage certificate, death certificate of the mother, photos
with him and the kids, and copies of money transfers. But the response was
the same: “They are not U.S. citizens, there is nothing we can do”.

“This is ridiculous, their houses collapsed, their schools collapsed, there
is nothing they can do here,” Evens told the Embassy officials. “My mom is
73, she has a heart condition, and she doesn’t have any more medication. She
has to go to the U.S. too but she is not going to leave the country without
the kids”.

“I’m sorry, we can’t do anything,” the official replied. “Maybe you can call
CARE or UNICEF, and they can take care of the kids”.

Four days later, Evens heard an announcement on the radio that U.S. citizen
parents of non-U.S. citizens could now bring them to the U.S. Evens dragged
his mother and the two children back to the U.S. Embassy. Well, to the gate
of the embassy.

“I am a U.S. citizen and yet to this moment I have never entered the U.S.
Embassy in Port-au-Prince,” he said. “You have a big embassy, with
air-conditioning, and you let your citizens stand out in the heat, and this
is paid for with taxpayer money”.

As before, two embassy employees came out. Same questions, same documents,
same response. “We can’t”. Even though the radio supposedly was quoting a
U.S. official, the radio report was wrong, the embassy employees said. Then
Evens showed them photos of the birth of his children. They didn’t even want
to touch them. Of course, they were only following orders. The official
looked really embarrassed and his young woman colleague started to cry.

Ironically, many U.S. missionaries rushed to Haiti and took kids out, either
for medical treatment or adoption. Then the Haitian government arrested 10
missionaries from an Idaho-based Baptist church. They had tried to take a
busload of 33 Haitian children across the border into the Dominican Republic
without any papers proving the minors were orphans or any official
permission to take them out of the country. They were arrested. Then Bill
Clinton, named by the United Nations to coordinate relief efforts, chimed
in: “What’s important now is for the government of Haiti and the government
of the United States to get together and work through this,” quickly adding
it is not his direct responsibility [Bill Clinton urges solution to Haiti
‘kidnap’ case, Feb-5-10, reuters.com]

“We know a lady who runs an orphanage and took 20 kids while we were in
Haiti, and I can’t take my own children,” exclaims Evens, back at his home
in Palm Bay, FL. “You have a country that has collapsed, I have a brand new
house, we have a good music recording business, and they won’t let me take
care of my kids!”

The kids even have a new mother waiting in Florida. Evens is writing a book
on his experiences. When looking around for publishers, he met Sue,
publisher of an award-winning national resource guide on AIDS. They married.

“My kids are now technically teenagers, but not like teenagers in the U.S.,”
Evens says. “They are very gentle and look like little kids. And I get upset
to see them suffer, but these kids are pragmatic and they say, ‘Don’t worry
Dad, everything will work out fine.’ They are the ones who comfort me!”

Evens remains combative and … philosophical. “I want the U.S. government
to do the right thing,” he says, “and others not to have to go through this
nightmare.”

Toward this end he and Sue have launched an online petition
(www.petitiononline.com/evcolas/petition.html), which already has some 300
signatures. “The US government is putting our children in danger of being
affected by infectious diseases, and possibly falling into the hands of
pedophiles, slavers or kidnappers,” the petition reads in part. “There are
news releases every day with adoptive parents and agencies leaving Haiti
with children by the hundreds. Recently a group of missionaries were caught
crossing the border into the Dominican Republic with 33 Haitian children,
some of whom were not orphans at all. The exploitation of Haitian children
without parents being present worsens by the day and yet we have no way of
rescuing our children.”

So here we have the case of the model U.S. immigrant, hard-working,
resourceful, honest, generous, and ready to take on children who might not
be his biologically. Despite U.S. pledges to help in Haiti, the top priority
at the U.S. Embassy seems to be to prevent eligible Haitians from obtaining
visas, turning a blind eye to human suffering and common sense.

All articles copyrighted Haiti Liberte. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED.
Please credit Haiti Liberte.

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