A Waterville family is asking Gov. Paul LePage and members of Maine's congressional delegation to intervene on behalf of a Haitian man who was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this month for reasons that are not clear. The man, Lexius Saint Martin, is now being held at a New Hampshire jail awaiting deportation.
Recently the Trump administration rescinded Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for 60,000 Haitian immigrants. TPS is granted to eligible foreign nationals if they were disrupted by an earthquake, flood, epidemic or other disaster that severely disrupts living conditions.
TPS was granted for Haitian immigrants who were displaced by a massive 2010 earthquake, but now other Haitians are also being picked up and detained.
Saint Martin was pulling out of his driveway to go to work Jan. 2 when ICE officials apprehended him. He parked the car and left with agents before his wife, Mindy, even knew he was missing. A little while later he called her from the road using an ICE officer's phone.
"He said, 'Mindy, I am being deported back to Haiti. The car's in the driveway. I just want to let you know, thank you for everything you've done. I love you. And tell my kids that I love them."
The couple has been married for seven years. They have two young children together and a third due in May. As the sole breadwinner for the family, Lexius runs a successful cleaning business that provided enough income to buy a house. Since his arrest, Mindy isn't sure how she will pay the bills. She's also worried about being permanently separated from her husband. They talk on the phone every night for about five minutes, and she's only been able to visit him once. He's told her he's being held with dozens of others in overcrowded conditions, including no bed initially, insufficient heat and few blankets.
“He said it's just an awful situation to be in,” said Mindy. “And he doesn't know from the next minute - nothing. He said some people that he's talked to have been there for at least eight months, waiting."
A spokesperson for ICE, John Mohan, said he would look into the matter before commenting further.
Saint Martin had been covered by TPS, but Mohan said it was unlikely that Saint Martin's arrest had anything to do with the policy being rescinded, as that ruling is not expected to go into effect until 2019.
Meanwhile, Mindy Saint Martin and her relatives have retained an attorney, Evan Fisher, to try to intervene. Fisher says the administration's lack of clarity around the policy is frustrating, and thinking that 60,000 Haitians can safely return to Haiti is flawed.
"The situation in Haiti, according to all credible accounts, is not good,” says Fisher. “They've had a cholera outbreak. They were hit by two very bad hurricanes not too long ago. Most of the national government is in temporary offices. There are just massive problems in Haiti."
TPS is granted to eligible foreign nationals if they were disrupted by an earthquake, flood, epidemic or other disaster that severely disrupts living conditions. In the November announcement that TPS for Haiti was ending, the acting secretary of Homeland Security said a review of conditions since 2010 showed a vast improvement.
Fisher is skeptical, and so is the NAACP. This week the group filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security saying the decision to rescind TPS status for Haitian immigrants is an egregious departure from statute and "an intent to discriminate on the basis of race and/or ethnicity."
Fisher, who is not part of the lawsuit, says President Trump has made that case himself.
"What does support the decision is the incendiary remarks that have come from President Trump about immigrants, specifically about Haitians and specifically about immigrants of color."
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the lawsuit or the status of Lexius Saint Martin and other Haitian immigrants.
This story was originally published Jan. 25, 2018 at 6:19 p.m. ET.