When Melody Hart and her husband, Gary Benjamin, arrived at a Michigan courthouse to support the Haitian immigrant they had first heard about last year, they had no idea that their story would spread, and would inspire readers to extend a hand and give back this holiday season.
The heartwarming story, detailed in the Washington Post this weekend, follows the Ohio couple, who first learned about Ansly Damus from their friend who works on immigrant rights reform. After hearing that Damus, a Haitian ethics professor who had come to the California-Mexico border in 2016, had been detained in their home state for over a year, the couple decided to do something — showing up at the detention facility to offer their support. Melody and her husband Gary first visited Damus in January, while he was given permission to have visitors for 30 days. Aside from a pro-bono lawyer, Hart and Benjamin were Damus’ only visitors.
“The government had denied Damus parole because it considered him a flight risk with no meaningful connections in Ohio,” writes Eli Saslow, a reporter at the Post. “Damus had followed U.S. protocol by presenting himself to Border Patrol and saying he feared for his life. He had been handcuffed and flown to a detention facility with empty beds in Ohio, where he’d spent the past two years waiting for a final resolution in his case.” Benjamin and Hart were both alarmed by this injustice.
When Damus was brought to Ann Arbor in November for his final court hearing, Benjamin and Hart drove four hours to support him, and brought along warm clothes, language books to help improve his English, champagne — in hopes of hearing good news — and 32 fellow community activists who joined them on the trip.
“I hope this shows that people in this country care about what’s happening to him,” Hart said. “He has to believe that he’s come to the right place.”
The day after the hearing, when Hart received a call from an unknown number, she picked up right away, anxious to hear the verdict they had been waiting for. “It was Damus’s lawyer,” Saslow explains. “He said the government had decided to offer a deal rather than waiting for the judge’s decision.” The lawyer shared that Damus would be released from detention, as long as he agreed to wear an electronic ankle-monitor, and would live with Benjamin and Hart until the case was officially over.
According to Saslow, Benjamin and Hart didn’t bat an eyelash before welcoming Damus into their home, even after being warned that the case’s resolution could take years.
When Damus entered their home the next day, after two years of confinement, his first priorities were family and gratitude. According to Saslow, Damus called his wife in Haiti, and then stood with Hart and Benjamin to pray together. “Maybe it was gratitude, or homesickness, or fatigue, or despair, or joy, or some combination,” Saslow writes. “By the time he said ‘Amen,’ his shoulders had started to tremble and his voice had begun to break. He squeezed their hands and then let go.”
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