Joseph Dantica, 81-year-old pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, requested asylum in the U.S. last month after local gangs threatened to retaliate for an incident in which police and UN peacekeepers used the upper floors of his church to fire on gang members. Upon arrival, he was detained by the Department of Homeland Security. While undergoing a "credible fear" interview, Dantica (whose blood pressure medication, family members say, had been taken away) fell ill and was taken to a Miami hospital, where family members were not allowed to visit him. There he died. The story might not have attracted any attention at all but that Dantica's niece is the award-winning novelist Edwidge Danticat. The fimmaker Jonathan Demme, the popular writer Walter Mosley, and the family's local member of congress are all demanding an investigation.
It's certainly possible that Rev. Dantica's time would have come whether he was detained or not, but a couple of morals already attach themselves to this story:
1. It's better to cheat your way into the United States. Dantica had a valid visitor's visa which he could have used to enter the country and disappear into the interior, but since he suspected he might never return to Haiti, he did the right thing by requesting asylum, and got burned.
2. The U.S. needs a reasonable policy on Haitian immigrants, who are fleeing a country that makes Cuba look like Switzerland and have more political reasons for asylum than there are politicians.
3. Apparently the DHS has added to its many other tasks the job of enforcing AMA and FDA standards on medical treatment. The St. Petersburg Times, which has the best story on the incident, includes this judgment from a department expert:
Homeland Security said Dantica was carrying "no legitimate prescribed medicine." All he had in his possession was a "folk remedy," which the department described as some kind of "poultice" or dressing.
4. Alberto Gonzales will have to work pretty hard to be more pathetic than John Ashcroft:
U.S. officials have gone as far as arguing that the Haitians represent a national security threat; Attorney General John Ashcroft recently cited intelligence reports that Muslim terrorists were trying to use Haiti to infiltrate the United States.