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"Earthquake Defense" Will Make Haitian a Free Man — Probably 

Did the "earthquake defense" work for Felicier Edmond, a Haitian immigrant busted illegally crossing the Canadian border into Vermont?

Looks that way. Edmond secured a plea deal in federal court in Burlington on Tuesday that got him a lesser charge (a misdemeanor instead of a felony) and no additional jail time in exchange for a guilty plea. He could have gotten 6 months in prison and up to $5000 in fines.

The sentence came with a big ironic twist: Felicier will probably be allowed to remain in the U.S., even though he, like thousands of other Haitians who came here after the quake, have standing deportation orders.

Click here for background on the flood of Haitians into Vermont. Click here for background on Edmond.

After the Jan. 12 earthquake, the Obama administration granted "temporary protected status" to Haitians living illegally in the U.S. — meaning they wouldn't be deported back to Haiti (the logic being that Haiti is now far too dangerous and unstable). Many Haitians who left the U.S. under deportation orders started coming back after that happened, even though temporary protected status only applied to Haitians living here before the earthquake happened.

Many, like Edmond, came from Canada, where they went seeking asylum in 2007 and 2008 after crackdowns by U.S. authorities. But like Edmond, many got caught at the Vermont border and thrown in jail.

Felicier's been in prison since his arrest on Feb. 5. U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss said at his sentencing Tuesday that he's served enough jail time and didn't have money to pay fines. He's now released into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where he'll be free to apply for an "order of supervision," a type of temporary status that lets him work and stay in the U.S. indefinitely.

Edmond's  lawyer, David Watts of Burlington, said his client intends to apply for — and hopefully receive — an order of supervision that will let him return to his home in Fort  Lauderdale, Fla., where he lived with his wife and 4-year-old son for a decade before going to Canada last fall.

Even though he doesn't qualify for temporary protected status, Watts said Edmond won't be sent back to Haiti (too dangerous) and won't be sent back to Canada (he wasn't granted asylum there).

Watts defended Edmond using what could be called an "earthquake defense." He argued that Edmond's family back in Haiti faced a life-and-death situation without sustained money sent home by Edmond — and that Edmond couldn't earn money in Canada, so he had to return to the U.S.

Federal prosecutors fought to block Edmond from presenting any evidence relating to the earthquake, but Watts pressed on, filing motions filled with gut-wrenching stories about the disaster's impact on Edmond's family. The quake left one of Edmond's relatives dead, another seriously wounded and many more homeless and forced to cram into a small, rural dwelling.

At sentencing, Edmond, a handsome, stocky man dressed in blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt, thanked his lawyers and prosecutors but said nothing else. Afterward, U.S. Marshals led him away in handcuffs.

"These are salt of the earth type folks," said Watts, who is representing two other Haitian clients. "It's these kinds of cases that remind us what our culture is all about. The reason the U.S. is strong is our tradition of welcoming people facing extraordinarily difficult situations at home."

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About The Author

Andy Bromage

Andy Bromage

Andy Bromage was a Seven Days staff writer from 2009-2012, and the news editor from 2012-2013.


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