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Attorney: Young brothers from Haiti held at SFO despite having visas

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 1/19/2021 By Tatiana Sanchez
a young boy wearing a hat: Brothers Christian Laporte, 19, and Vladimir Fardin, 9, pictured with their mother, Michaelle Pyroll, in Haiti over the Christmas holiday. The brothers are being detained at San Francisco International Airport. © /Courtesy Michaelle Pyroll

Brothers Christian Laporte, 19, and Vladimir Fardin, 9, pictured with their mother, Michaelle Pyroll, in Haiti over the Christmas holiday. The brothers are being detained at San Francisco International Airport.

Two brothers from Haiti were detained at San Francisco International Airport Sunday for more than a day, despite having visas to enter the United States, and the youngest, a 9-year-old boy, will likely be sent to a government shelter for unaccompanied children, immigration authorities said Tuesday.

Christian Laporte, 19, who is enrolled at Diablo Valley College in Contra Costa County, and Vladimir Fardin, 9, were detained at the airport by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Sunday, their attorney, Milli Atkinson, said.

Atkinson, legal director of the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative, said officers took the brothers’ visas away and did not allow them to communicate with her or family members.

Customs and Border Protection said Tuesday that one of the brothers was missing required documents, while the other had plans to enroll in school — a violation of his tourist visa. Laporte was allowed to withdraw his attempt to enter the country in lieu of deportation. He flew to Mexico Tuesday morning and will ultimately return home to his mother, a spokesperson said in an email.

Vladamir was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is expected to be transferred to a government-run shelter for unaccompanied minors, the spokesperson said.

The shelters are funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a subdivision of Health and Human Services that cares for unaccompanied minors and children separated from their parents or guardians by immigration authorities.

Representatives for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Jackie Speier said Tuesday they are “working on the matter” but declined to provide details, citing privacy constraints.

Laporte, who has studied in the U.S. for several years on a student visa — including two years at a boarding school on the East Coast — traveled to Haiti to be with family for the holidays, Atkinson and his family said. When it was time to return to the U.S., Vladimir asked to tag along with his older brother and accompanied him on a tourist visa.

“(Laporte) just wanted to let his brother see the schools in the United States and decide if the family possibly wanted to apply for a student visa for the 9-year-old in the future,” Atkinson said. “But instead when they got to the airport they were questioned, they were interrogated, they were not allowed to speak with an attorney. They were not allowed to speak with their family, their visas were taken from them.”

But Customs and Border Protection alleged Tuesday that the boy had previously attended elementary school in California on a tourist visa — a violation of the terms of the visa — and was planning on enrolling again.

The CBP spokesperson said Laporte, who presented an F-1 student visa, was missing required documents.

“CBP followed policy and procedure for processing of the (unaccompanied minor),” the spokesperson said. “Without a legally-acceptable and court-recognized guardian in the United States, the (unaccompanied minor) was turned over to Enforcement and Removal Operations for transport to the designated Office of Refugee Resettlement facility.”

Atkinson said Monday that she believed the brothers were stopped by authorities because Laporte was missing an I-20 form, a document that shows a student has been admitted to a full-time study program in the U.S. and has sufficient financial resources.

“Because of the holiday, he couldn’t get the one form from his college that he needed to be able to enter on a student visa,” she said. “Because he’s been stuck at the airport he can’t access any of his information online. His family — because they can’t speak to him — can’t log in for him to prove that he’s a student and resolve all the issues that they’re claiming they have with the student visa.”

Atkinson said that immigration authorities initially seemed open to allowing the brothers to fly back to Haiti but that they later said they were likely going to separate them.

Atkinson said authorities argued that they have no choice but to send the boy to the shelter — a claim that she refuted.

“They are able to do something called deferred inspection,” she said. “It’s something they do all the time to give them a few days to resolve some of the paperwork issues and let the children leave voluntarily with family members, with adults. But instead they’re sending them to detention and putting them through this horrible traumatic process.”

A longtime family friend, Linsay Etienne, lives in Oakley. She said Vladimir never intended to stay in the U.S and planned to leave later this month.

She said the boys’ mother, Michaelle Pyroll, expected a call from immigration authorities early Tuesday but that she did not hear from them. The family was not given information about the brothers’ immediate whereabouts and does not know where Vladimir is, she said.

Pyroll, on Monday told The Chronicle that Laporte sent her a text message on Sunday evening saying the two had been detained by immigration authorities. She has not heard from them since.

“I tried to text him back. I tried to call him. Nobody answered,” she said.

Pyroll, who lives in Haiti, said she is unable to travel to the U.S. and has no way of reaching her sons.

“I need to talk to my sons,” she said. “I don’t know what happened.”

Tatiana Sanchez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: tatiana.sanchez@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @TatianaYSanchez.

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