Ernso “Ernesto” Joseph, the homeless Haitian teen whose near three-year immigration battle reached from Little Haiti to Washington, D.C., received a birthday present Monday that money could not buy: the right to stay in the United States.
It took just five minutes.
“Happy Birthday, early,” Miami Immigration Judge Denise Slavin said as she approved Joseph’s petition to become a legal permanent U.S. resident and adjust his legal status. “It is a just resolution in this case.”
Slavin’s decision came just in time: Joseph turns 18 on Saturday, and as an adult, he would have faced deportation to Haiti without a green card.
“I am happy,” said the shy teen, who smiled and silently issued a “Thank You God” as Slavin spoke.
Monday’s decision ended a gut-wrenching legal saga that began soon after Joseph arrived in South Florida on Oct. 29, 2002. The then-15-year-old was among more than 200 Haitian migrants who arrived near Key Biscayne on a rickety boat after fleeing his volatile homeland in hopes of finding a better life.
Joseph, an orphan, found himself facing immigration authorities who refused to believe he was a minor. Instead, they insisted Joseph was 19, an adult, and detained him at the Krome detention center in West Miami-Dade.
Even after an immigration judge granted him asylum on the grounds that as an orphan he would face persecution on the streets of Haiti, where homeless children are often victimized and recruited by street gangs, federal immigration officials refused to release him.
“How many hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been spent by the government to try and deport Ernso?” said Cheryl Little, executive director of FIAC.
‘This case took thousands and thousands of attorneys’ hours, not to mention help from U.S. Congressman Kendrick Meek.”