By Jacqueline Charles and Jay Weaver
He was born in Broward County to a troubled mother who lost permanent custody due to mental health struggles. His mother’s parental rights to three of her older children had already been terminated. His father, back in Haiti, was not in the picture.
Urged on by the Florida Department of Children & Families, a circuit court judge has ruled that 9-months old Ector — by birthright an American citizen — should be sent to Haiti to be with his maternal grandmother, who lives in a mountainous region and has no steady income. The Florida foster family that has raised him since he was a week old fears for his safety in a country torn by kidnapping gangs and catastrophic hunger and wants to adopt him. They are suing to keep him here in their care.
Haiti is a country on the verge of collapse. Armed gangs regularly block roads and close down hospitals and schools and an ongoing gang blockade is making fuel and drinking water scarce, leading to a deadly cholera outbreak and food shortages. The State Department has warned U.S. citizens not to go, and said those living there should depart Haiti now in light of the current security and health situation and infrastructure challenges.
Physicians like Richard Frechette, the founder of St. Damien’s Pediatric Hospital and St. Luke Foundation in Port-au-Prince, find themselves dealing with the horrors of kidnappings, sexual violence and overall violence by gangs.
Even under the best of circumstances, healthcare in Haiti is problematic. And Ector has more than the usual healthcare issues, including a possible heart murmur and the need for insertion of ear tubes to curb infections caused by fluid accumulation in the inner ear. Neither condition is necessarily rare or dire, but they should be addressed and finding care in Haiti, where hospitals have been forced to close because of the ongoing crisis, could be vastly more challenging.
“What is going on there right now is not a good thing. It’s scary and it’s violent, and to send an infant into that with no protection, away from his only home, away from everybody he knows, to a place where he could possibly have food issues, not get clean water, that’s all very concerning,” said Tamara Simmons, who with her husband, Gerald, has been caring for Ector nearly since the boy’s birth.
He could be sent to Haiti any day despite the concerns of his foster parents, who have struggled in their legal effort to keep him here.
“He was born here. This is his birthright,” Simmons said, adding that the child is formula fed. “He has the right to clean water, and he has the right to not starve.”