Lost Between Two Nations

Jan 11, 2012

When an earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, the United States stopped deporting Haitian immigrants to the devastated nation. But deportations resumed last January, and Franco Coby, 24, of Fort Myers, found himself banished from the country he grew up in since the age of 6.

Coby was born in Haiti and, like many immigrants, came to the United States with his family for a better life. He had a typical American childhood. But after high school, Coby found himself in legal trouble. He began selling drugs because he says he couldn’t get a job without a work permit. Eventually he got caught.

In 2009, Coby was convicted for attempting to sell less than a gram of cocaine. He served two years in prison. When he was released, he was transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He was deported to Haiti Aug. 9, 2011.

When he returned to his native country, he spent a week in a Port-au-Prince jail. Coby expected that after deportation, he would be a free man. But Haiti often jails deportees when they enter the country – a process that is illegal under Haitian and international law.

The conditions inside the cell were not ideal: no beds, no water, broken toilets and the smell of garbage and feces drifting through the air. Conditions like these pose serious health risks. A cholera outbreak would spread quickly among inmates in these crowded jails.

Coby misses his family in the United States. He has two daughters – Elizabeth, 4, and Brianna, 2. His sister, Berline, got married the first night Coby spent in jail. He now lives with his Haitian relatives in the city of Les Cayes on Haiti’s southern coast. But he can’t get the family he left behind out of his mind. Coby won’t be eligible for a U.S. visa for another 10 years. Until then, he has to try to adjust to life in a country that is foreign to him.

This story was part of a larger investigation by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting into U.S. deportations to Haiti. Jacob’s research was supported in part by the Nation Institute Investigative Fund and the Investigative News Network.