“The Wretched Refuse of Your Teeming Shore”

[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Mickaël Dejean is seen from the shoulders up, leaning against a window, looking out of it, one arm crossed against his chest.]

Mickaël and Sebastien Dejean are brothers from Haiti currently living in the United States under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted because of the devastating 2010 earthquake and subsequent natural disasters. The Trump administration has decided not to extend TPS. The Dejeans and thousands of other Haitians living in the U.S. have until July 2019 to leave or they will be deported. What will returning to Haiti now mean for them?

By Robert Jones, Jr.

Edited by Natalie Degraffinried. Photography by Charles Leon Thompson.

“Tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light….What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of a town that cannot bear your company.”

– Toni Morrison, Nobel Lecture, 1993

A t 4:45 p.m. on January 12, 2010, Mickaël Dejean felt the earth tremble.

He had left the United States and returned to his native Haiti to visit family and friends during winter recess from college. It was Tuesday and he went to see some of his former classmates at Université Notre Dame d’Haïti, where, before leaving to study abroad in the United States, he had completed one year of medical school. The university’s building sits embedded high in mountainous terrain, providing some of the best views of the lush, green island nation — particularly its capital city, Port-au-Prince. Mickaël was seated in an empty classroom on the top floor, chatting with a friend about his return to Brooklyn College.

Then the walls began to shake.

“I felt the vibration, but I didn’t pay it much mind because earthquakes occur relatively regularly in Haiti,” Mickaël stated. “I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. But immediately after that first small wave subsided, the big wave hit.”

That is when Mickaël saw the corners of the room begin to crack open and split. Dust and smoke rose out of the fissures. As the room began to crumble around them, his friend yelled out, “Oh my God! We’re about to die!” and the two of them got up and attempted to find someplace safe to stand to avoid the crushing weight of the roof should it collapse.

“One of the things I learned was that in an earthquake, you don’t stay inside,” he shared. “And if you are indoors, you stand within the frame of a door to reduce the likelihood of something falling on you.”

The two escaped to the balcony, where they found another friend, and they stood under its entrance frame, half indoors, half outdoors. Looking out onto the city and believing that the entire building would come tumbling down the mountain, Mickaël contemplated jumping. But the elevation was too high. Instead, he assessed his surroundings and tried to absorb as much life-saving information as he could in the few moments he believed he had left. He was understandably distracted.

To his left, also atop hilly terrain, was an orphanage.

“It fell in on itself,” Mickaël recounted, his eyes distant. “As it was happening, I could hear all the children inside screaming.”

To his right, a radio antenna tower came crashing down the mountain. Out in the distance, a shocked Mickaël saw the left side of the National Palace — a structure built by the United States in 1914 just prior to its 19-year occupation of Haiti — disintegrate, sending a huge white cloud into the air.

“You ever see the movie The Day After Tomorrow? It was exactly like that,” he said. Pausing for a moment, he continued: “At that point, I knew I was going to die. And my immediate thought was, ‘I’m not even going to get to see my mother one last time.’”

On a field not too far away at Institution Saint-Louis de Gonzague, a Roman Catholic primary and secondary school, Mickaël’s younger brother, Sebastien, was gearing up for track practice.

“In my head, I imagined that the vibration was the result of a low-flying plane because that happens often,” Sebastien said. “But I looked into the sky and there were no planes. And the ground was shaking for what felt like forever, but it was probably not longer than a minute. We ran in the middle of the field and just stood there. The ground was moving so violently that I thought it was going to open up and swallow us whole.”

And then it stopped.

“That’s when I heard the entire city cry out at once. Thousands of people screaming. I was sure that my mom was gone.”

[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Sebastien Dejean in a portrait from the chest up, looking directly into the camera.]

Mickaël and Sebastien’s Life in Haiti

F or as long as he could remember, Mickaël wanted to be a doctor.

Born in Haiti, the most populous Caribbean nation with over 10 million citizens as of 2016, he and Sebastien were raised in what they call a middle-class family in Port-au-Prince. They initially grew up in the metropolitan part of the city, not too far from the National Palace, and speak four languages: Haitian Creole, French, Spanish, and English — the last of which they learned by watching American television programming and listening to hip-hop music. Their mother, a nurse, and their father, an agronomist and field engineer, both professors, bought farmland and moved the family — which also includes eldest brother Stephan, who now lives in the Bronx — to the countryside.

Mickaël completed a year of medical school in Haiti before realizing that study in the United States might help him achieve his goal more solidly. He was accepted to Brooklyn College and came to the U.S. under a student visa, living with a paternal aunt who had immigrated some time before. He survived financially by utilizing gifts his parents sent until he joined the Haitian American Student Association, where he was introduced to other resources. He initially majored in biology but switched to health and nutrition and was thus acquainted with one of the ways racism functions in this country.

“The institutional health disparities between white and black people in America is something that shocked me. In Haiti, I never would have imagined that this would be the case. I thought America was so ‘advanced.’”

He then added Africana studies so that he could get a better understanding of the history of American black communities and his place in them. As is often the case with cross-cultural understandings, the perception of African Americans in Haiti is complex. While hip-hop and other cultural exports are widely admired, there is still a media-influenced notion that African Americans are lazy, criminal, violent, and unmotivated.

“I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter if I’m Haitian, she’s Trini, and they’re Guyanese. We’re all black,” Mickaël said of the diaspora. “Here, I’ve come to know people to whom I’m not related by blood, but they care for me and consider me their brother. Their parents think of me as their own son! All these things have deeply affected me.”

At Brooklyn College, Mickaël was a cross-country runner and soccer player, as well as a member of the Black and Latino Male Initiative, the Caribbean Student Union, the Black Student Union, and the National Black Science Students Organization, the last of which provided him access to a library stocked with the costly subject textbooks that he otherwise would not have been able to afford. He is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first of the “Divine Nine” historically black fraternities and sororities, and does quite a bit of charitable work through the organization. He graduated in 2018, representing, as a banner carrier, the college’s School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences.

Sebastien, meanwhile, left Haiti after the earthquake and came to the United States first through a tourist visa and then, along with Mickaël, via the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which was, at first, only available to Haitian citizens who were in the United States before the earthquake until the Obama administration expanded eligibility in 2011 and extended the protection several times beyond the initial 18-month designation. TPS is a humanitarian policy enacted by Congress in 1990 that allows the secretary of Homeland Security to grant temporary asylum to citizens of a foreign nation “due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.”

Sebastien joined his brother in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn after earning a GED diploma and enrolling at Medgar Evers College. He received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and is now pursuing a master’s degree in experimental psychology at Brooklyn College. He and Mickaël share a humble two-bedroom apartment in a private house, and it is in the typical state of disarray that comes with college life and freedom from parental oversight. Dishes are piled in the kitchen sink; in the bedrooms, there are clothes everywhere and the beds are unmade. And yet the early morning light bathes Mickaël’s room in a glorious glow; the southern exposure masks the chaos with a mellow kind of order.

Having found community, the brothers feel, for the most part, protected — but they are not unaware of or unaffected by the challenges facing the black population in America. Sebastien notes that he never really experienced racism prior to coming here and was astounded to encounter it.

“I didn’t really have this ingrained notion that my skin color meant something…negative until I came here.”

[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Mickaël and Sebastien are sitting on the stoop in front of their home, engaged in conversation.]

The racist pathology Sebastien describes is endemic to the American democratic project and has been recently aggravated by the election of Donald J. Trump as president. Trump referred to Haiti and other black and brown nations as “shithole countries,” and after granting one six-month TPS extension, the reality star turned leader of the free world decreed that the estimated 46,000 Haitian immigrants currently enrolled have until July 22, 2019, before they are deported. It should be noted that the Obama administration had initially planned to deport Haitians granted asylum under TPS as well. However, Hurricane Matthew gave them reason to delay deportation proceedings. According to the World Bank, 2016’s category 4 hurricane killed 546 people, displaced over 175,000, and made it so that over one million more required humanitarian aid.

The country’s infrastructure remains devastated following these natural disasters. The efforts to rebuild move slowly because the $13 billion raised for aid is in the hands of foreign private contractors who do not have to publicly disclose how the funds are being allocated. For example, the American Red Cross raised nearly half a billion dollars to help Haiti rebuild, but only six permanent homes have been built, and the rest of the money is unaccounted for. Further, United Nations relief workers essentially caused a cholera epidemic. As of January 2015, over 720,000 Haitians were infected with the disease, and almost 9,000 died from it. Economic aid is either held up in bureaucracy or eaten up by international contractors. Haitians living in the U.S. earned enough money in 2017 to send an estimated $2 billion back to Haiti. This income is crucial to the survival of their families still living on the island.

The Trump administration argues that the “T” in “Temporary” is prescriptive and that there was never any intention for Haitians to remain in the United States indefinitely. They feel that the United States has done enough and it is time for Haitians to return to their home, irrespective of the condition it is in. There should be no mistaking that racism plays the primary role in this assessment. While the United States, “a nation of immigrants,” has long displayed xeno-antagonistic attitudes, there is a particular disdain expressed for immigrants from black and brown nations. Haitians, along with Mexicans, have a more difficult journey to asylum and citizenship in the United States than immigrants from other nations.

Haiti itself is not yet ready to receive the Haitians in the United States. Haitians are a crucial part of the American labor force and add significantly to the U.S. economy. But beyond appeals to the capitalist desire to prove one’s worth through one’s productivity, there is an ethical question to be answered. If the concept of morality has any validity (to paraphrase James Baldwin), it can only be in demonstrating compassion to a people in need without regard to borders either natural or artificial. It is in the magnification of kindness and liberty, in the courage to look into the faces of other human beings and see life rather than seeing refuse. Morality is an abstraction that calls upon us to give if and when we have it to give; the United States — thanks in no small part to its colonial interventions, including those in Haiti — has it to give. To be ruled by irrational fear and greed, to give in to the lowest parts of ourselves because we have invented an outside enemy when the true one exists in the mirror, is to lose the right to think of oneself as a moral beacon. There, in the shriveled and cruel places where we deny that being alive itself entitles one to dignity, lurks another of humankind’s abstractions: evil.

[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Mickaël is seen in a full-body shot, standing in the middle of the street, facing the camera, hands balled into fists at his side. Parked cars and traffic are in the background.]

“Send These, the Homeless, Tempest-tossed to Me”

A fter the earthquake, the Dejean family could not confirm each other’s survival until very late into the evening. Because of the damage to roads and infrastructure, it took them hours to get home. Their property suffered only minor damage: The wall surrounding the farmland fell, and the pipe that brought fresh water to the home burst. The family had to sleep outdoors because the government advised that structures, though intact, might not be safe. Mickaël and his father took turns guarding their loved ones and property from looters and criminals, some of whom had escaped incarceration when one of the walls of the penitentiary gave way during the quake. Armed with machetes, the Dejean men walked the perimeter in six-hour shifts. They considered themselves lucky.

The casualties were immense. Depending on the source, it was reported that anywhere between 100,000 and 316,000 Haitians died in the magnitude 7.0 earthquake, and roughly 300,000 were injured. An estimated 1.5 million people were left homeless. Before Hurricane Matthew even struck, roughly the equivalent of 120 percent of the gross domestic product was destroyed. Haiti is considered the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Currently, parts of Haiti are in varying states of unrest due to the instability created by Western interventions. And recently, Jack Guy Lafontant, Haiti’s prime minister, resigned amidst intense protests initiated by a proposed steep increase in gas prices, leaving Haiti ungoverned for weeks prior to the appointment of Jean-Henry Céant. It is into this ongoing upheaval that Trump wishes to return Haitians who have found refuge in the United States.

No faith can be placed in an American regime that prides itself on eschewing compassion for the harsh extremism and utter panic of white identity politics. Trump’s unspoken but obvious mission is to ensure that amidst falling fertility rates, increased risk of suicide, looming minority status, the interrogation and dismantling of white superiority narratives, and the explosion of white-on-white crime and a drug crisis (the worst in American history) endemic to white communities, white Americans retain economic, social, and psychological control of a country that they use genocide, slavery, and terror to despoil. It seems that part of how he hopes to accomplish this is by preventing black and brown immigrants from entering the country. By no means can it be imagined that this administration will do right by Haitians when the history of the Western world has been to penalize their country, behave paternalistically toward it, or otherwise discriminate against it for even daring to exist.

Displaying characteristic resilience, which can be as detrimental as it is necessary for black people, Mickaël returned to the states on February 2, 2010, just in time for the start of the spring semester. In an attempt to put the horrors of what he experienced and witnessed behind him, he threw himself head-first into his studies. It was only then that he began to understand the effects the disaster actually had on him. Though he and his family survived, he did not come out of it unscathed.

“For a long time after, I couldn’t sleep. I continued to hear the voices of screaming children. I couldn’t take the subway because of the rumbling. If I was inside a house for too long, I would be compelled to get up and walk outside for fear of the walls caving in on me. There was one instance where I was at the college gym, bench pressing with a friend. Seven feet away from the press are the treadmills. On that day, all the treadmills were occupied. So as I was lifting weights, all of a sudden, I felt the vibration of all the people running on the treadmills. I got up and I ran out of the gym. Everyone was looking at me like there was something wrong with me.”

To rip Mickaël from the new life he has created for himself and return him to the site of his distress without coping tools would surely magnify his trauma. One might imagine that as the United States’ goal: to crush the spirits of black folk under the guise of policy, which has been the American way from the moment a way could be described as American. On that basis alone, we must oppose Haitian deportation as vigorously as any other act of anti-Blackness: with full spirit and, if necessary, blood.

[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Mickaël is seen in a close-up of his face. Seen from the neck up, he is looking directly into the camera.]

The World’s Anti-Haitian Sentiment

H aiti was the first nation of black people to successfully overthrow its white supremacist overlords and free itself from the shackles of enslavement. During a revolution that lasted from 1791 to 1804, the black inhabitants of the island defeated Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces and founded the first black republic. Under French rule, the western part of the island was called Saint-Domingue, but the victorious black population renamed it “Ayiti” (“land of the high mountains”) or Haiti, the name given to it by the indigenous population of Taino peoples. The country has been paying the cost of that liberation ever since.

In 1825, France — with the backing of other nations, including the United States, who feared Haiti’s independence) — extorted 90 million gold francs (roughly the equivalent of $21 billion today) from Haiti as “reparations” to former slave owners, threatening a larger military invasion and Western sanctions. For 122 years, Haiti paid this unjust, unethical measure, helping to institutionalize the country’s enduring economic and political volatility. There have been calls for France to refund this payment in the name of justice, but French leadership has flatly refused, using the same excuses, platitudes, obfuscations, lies, and psychological violence that agents of white supremacy often employ when attempting to avoid accountability.

To further diminish Haiti’s example as a self-liberated force, white supremacist regimes engaged in a propaganda mission spreading the idea that Haiti’s freedom was gained at the price of its soul, saying that Haitians made a pact with the devil to defeat French tyranny. This slander is particularly prominent in Christian spaces to justify Haiti’s continued dejected status on the world stage and to explain why natural disasters befall the country.

On the island of Hispaniola, Haitians face oppression from their neighbors to the east: the Dominican Republic. After declaring victory over the French in 1804, Haitians helped the Dominican Republic, then called Santo Domingo, free itself from its Spanish oppressors in the Dominican Restoration War. But then Haitians took control of the entire island before Dominicans wrested control of the eastern part of it in 1865.

Dominican feelings of hostility toward Haitians lingered and exploded under the rule of dictator Rafael Trujillo (whose control of the country had the backing and support of the U.S. and other Western powers), who enacted a genocide against Haitians in 1937. Anywhere from 1,000 to 30,000 Haitians in Dominican-Haitian border regions were massacred, mostly with machetes, in Trujillo’s attempt to rid his nation of black people. The United States, Mexico, and Cuba eventually forced him to pay restitution to the Haitian government in the amount of $525,000.

Trujillo’s legacy of antihaitianismo (a term describing the specific prejudice directed against Haitians and Haitian identity) lives on. In 2013, the Dominican Supreme Court ruled that anyone born after 1929 who did not have at least one biologically Dominican parent with the ability to prove it (through dubious documentary means) is not considered a Dominican citizen and is thus in the country illegally. As a result, the Dominican Republic began deporting thousands of individuals considered, by its own definition, to be Haitian — including those who were born and raised in the Dominican Republic and spoke Spanish but not Haitian Creole.

In the United States, Haitian Americans faced varying levels of discrimination from other black communities. Trump’s statements that all Haitians have AIDS is one that has permeated the culture for decades, initiated by an ill-informed and frightened medical community in the 1980s. Young Haitian people endured ridicule from African Americans, other Caribbean Americans, and continental Africans in America because of their language and fashion aesthetic; Haitians were sometimes looked down upon by other black people as unsophisticated, primitive, or even savage. There was a flimsy attempt to justify this behavior: Haitian immigrants were blamed for taking menial jobs earning less than minimum wage, thus driving down wages — the same justification used by anti-Haitian Dominicans in the Dominican Republic. More likely, this treatment of Haitians is simply a symptom of internalized anti-Blackness.

There has been some controversy in Brooklyn this year over a section of the Flatbush neighborhood being named “Little Haiti” and requests for a section of a street in Little Haiti to be renamed after Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a formerly enslaved Haitian who helped Toussaint L’Ouverture overthrow the French regime during the Haitian Revolutionary War. The City Council questioned whether Desslines should be the recipient of such a distinction because of his brutality during battle — ignoring, perhaps intentionally, that such means were necessary to liberate those oppressed. Though the renaming was eventually approved, the attempt to suppress or otherwise erase Haitian national identity remains a clear and present threat.

Further, Haiti is a victorious black nation in the historical sense, but it has not escaped the colonial legacy of internalized white supremacist patriarchy. Sexism and misogynoir are often at play politically as well as socially. Classism, which always works to the detriment of poor people, is a major site for institutional oppression in Haiti (the Dejeans say last names are used to determine one’s family “stock” and indicate a sort of caste system). Colorism is another issue, with the lighter-skinned minority being privileged over the darker-skinned majority. “The lighter your skin is, the better treatment you get,” Sebastien remarked. In the United States, the one-drop rule is a concept that designates individuals as black if they have one drop (one ancestor) of black blood. According to Mickaël, in Haiti, the opposite is true: one drop of white blood makes an individual white.

Mickaël and Sebastien explained that Haiti’s participation in the world theater means that political corruption is also an inescapable part of the socioeconomic landscape. Due to a lack of resources, schooling in Haiti is not free. All academic institutions, public and private, charge tuition and fees. That makes education in Haiti inaccessible to many.

For their part, Mickaël and Sebastien merely wish to finish what they began: receiving a well-rounded education and career-building skills to help uplift their homeland and maintain a foothold in the states to help black communities here. They cannot, however, continue to do that under a student visa. It is simply too expensive, as tuition for international students at otherwise affordable public schools can be upwards of triple the amount paid by American citizens — an issue exacerbated by the yet higher price of graduate school. Mickaël currently works part-time in Brooklyn College’s Division of Student Affairs and is a student teacher and visual artist at local intermediate schools. Sebastien now works part-time in the college’s LGBTQ Resource Center. The brothers are building a life for themselves here; to uproot them now would be forcing them to give up work and be separated from yet another family — this from a country that prides itself on “family values.” One is compelled to interrogate just what America considers these values to be, exactly, and how, precisely, it is defining family.

[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Sebastien is seen in a full-body shot standing in the middle of the street. He is looking into the camera, smiling. His hands are at his sides, hands balled into fists. Parked cars and traffic seen in the background.]

The Right to Be

S ebastien knew from an early age that he was attracted to people of the same sex.

“I knew I was different,” he said. “At age six, I would fantasize about other boys. I didn’t have any idea what that would mean for my life. I knew that all the men and boys around me expressed interest in women and girls, and I was confounded by why I couldn’t similarly express my interests.”

He was teased for his perceived femininity by classmates and other young people in his community. He didn’t know of any other queer people in his proximity. He felt estranged and alone, so he sublimated his feelings and attempted to appear straight. He experienced a period of deep denial. “I tried dating girls. I really tried. But it didn’t work out,” he laughs. He also turned to reading (naming Truman Capote and Kurt Vonnegut among his favorite authors) and writing poetry to try and reconcile some of what he was experiencing. His fear in returning to Haiti is that now that he is out and proud, there is no way to put the lightning back in the bottle. As a result, he would be shunned by his community. Or worse.

“I remember there was a queer protest in Haiti some time ago and my father was watching it on television and said something to the effect of ‘Oh my God. Those gays! They should be jailed or killed!’ And I thought, ‘Wow. Would you feel the same knowing your son is gay?’” Sebastien reflected. “I don’t think it’s safe to be out in Haiti. It can be a very inflexible culture where, thanks to certain religious influences, anything that deviates from the norm is considered ‘bad’ or even ‘demonic.’ I’ve heard many tales of people who were killed because of this.”

Due to Haiti’s indoctrination into Western religious systems and regular rejection of more enlightened, accepting, and inclusive ancestral spiritual practices like Vodou, queerantagonism is a major issue there. This is not to say that there is not an openly queer community; there is. It is just that life for openly queer people is much more difficult in Haiti than it is, comparatively, in the United States. For example, same-sex marriage is illegal in Haiti (though with Trump’s Supreme Court selections and his administration’s stance on queer rights, many fear that the same might eventually be the case in the U.S.). Recently, Haiti passed two anti-queer bills. The first denies a “certificate of moral good standing” to anyone proven to be queer. The certificate is necessary for people who want to enroll in certain colleges or work at some corporations. The second bans outward support of queerness and enforces a fine and prison term for those who do not abide.

Sebastien came out to some of his family members who live in the United States. “Mickaël said he already knew. I said, ‘Well, you could’ve given me a hint that you knew or something. It would have made my coming out that much easier for me.’”

Sebastien did not start dating men until he came to the U.S. He was 22 years old when he went on his first date.

“Here in America, I have truly become who I am,” Sebastien said. “I was unable to be who I am and express myself in Haiti, and that was reflected in things like my performance in school, which suffered a bit. Coming here made me more open-minded and made me realize that I’m a person, a human being, and I have a right to live my life as it objectively doesn’t bring any harm to anyone else. As a black queer man, the prospect of going back to Haiti — I can’t even fathom that because it would mean that I’d have to go back to not existing.”

[PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Sebastien and Mickaël are seated at a table in their kitchen engaged in conversation, laughing. A cluttered kitchen counter and appliances are in the background.]

The Spirit of Resistance

T he situation is not utterly hopeless.

“First of all, it is clear that not all the TPS Haitians will be deported by July 2019,” said Dr. Jean Eddy Saint Paul, founding director of the City University of New York (CUNY) Haitian Studies Institute. “The end of TPS is many months away. If Congress changes in 2019, a legislative solution can be found. However, the worst-case scenario might be that ICE could use TPS records to detain and deport Haitians. We talk of worst-case because the current Haitian government has been unable to create the minimum infrastructure required to create a common sphere of citizenship necessary for the Haitians to live a dignified life.”

He adds that some legal experts in immigration, like Allan Wernick, the Director of CUNY Citizenship Now, do not believe ICE will use TPS records. “Wernick did, however, point out that ‘Haitians with TPS will face a dire situation in the United States if they don’t have legal access to a work permission, the right to travel abroad, or access to a driver’s license or social services,’” explains Saint Paul.

Others agree. In January, the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, calling the departure from the TPS statute’s requirements racist in nature. Saint Paul said that there are also things the average person can do to halt the administration’s discriminatory practices.

“U.S. elected officials of Haitian descent must identify in their respective networks. There is a need to identify those who occupy higher political positions in Washington and in other states that can serve as potential political allies able to push for Haitian TPS holders. We need to bear in mind that 2018 is an election year. So beyond the political lobbying mentioned earlier, Haitian-American citizens and their allies need to get out and vote accordingly.”

Neither Mickaël nor Sebastien have been back to Haiti since 2010 for fear of not being able to return to the United States. But their mother comes to visit every year. Understanding the potential obstacles and uncertainties surrounding his immigration status, Mickaël is hoping to enroll in a master of public health program at Johns Hopkins University before eventually going on to medical school here in the states.

“Perhaps they will create a pipeline for permanent residency for us,” Mickaël muses. “I could marry an American citizen, but I respect and value the institution of marriage and will marry for no other reason than love. There’s also the possibility of obtaining a work visa, but those are extremely difficult to come by.”

Meanwhile, the brothers are taking daily life one step at a time. In a show of support, solidarity, and love, Mickaël accompanied Sebastien to Brooklyn College’s first queer prom, which took place during LGBTQ Pride Month in June.

“Mickaël coming to this event meant a lot to me. It meant that he is willing to be a part of this aspect of my life. I just wish we had more time to dance.”

Though the uncertainty of what happens next for them looms large, Mickaël and Sebastien have found strength in their own brotherhood. The bond is one forged in blood and in the memory of those who fought and sacrificed so that they might have access to the opportunities that some are trying to deny them. While they do not take the threats to their progress and liberation in stride, they remain resolute in their attempts to realize their goals, reflecting the best of Haitian heritage: persistent, celebratory, and triumphant, even in the midst of trouble.

“I now have a bachelor’s degree. If I’m deported, my hope is that I can find work within the public health sector back home. We’ll see how things go,” Mickaël said. However, one fear lingered:

“But my brother…”

Robert Jones, Jr. is a writer from Brooklyn, N.Y. His work has been featured in Essence, OkayAfrica, The Grio, the Feminist Wire, and The New York Times. He is the creator of the social justice social media community, Son of Baldwin, which can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. He is vigorously revising his first novel.

Natalie Degraffinried is an editor and writer from Cleveland, Ohio, currently based in Philadelphia. She is the web editor for The Millions and a contributing editor for Catapult. Follow her on Twitter.

Charles Leon Thompson is a designer and photographer living in New York City. He has worked in architecture and academia for over 20 years. He is the creator and illustrator of Doogaji, a series of children’s books and merchandise celebrating Korean-American culture. His inspiration comes from a desire to celebrate his wife and son’s heritage. Follow Doogaji on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.