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Haitian family overcomes 10 years of separation, political turmoil, reunites in Northeast Ohio

A Black man hugs a Black child and Black woman surrounded by balloons.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
Ansly Damus and his family reunite at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport on April 2, 2024.

A Haitian immigrant living in Cleveland Heights reunited with his family Tuesday evening after a 10-year separation.

Ansly Damus greeted his wife and two children at Cleveland Hopkins Airport with balloons and flowers. It was their first time seeing each other since Damus fled Haiti 10 years ago fearing for his life.

“I’m glad, glad to see you, my dear,” Damus said as he embraced his wife. “Stay strong. I’m here for you.”

As a teacher in Haiti, Damus was beaten and threatened with death after criticizing a politician. In 2014, he fled first to Brazil and eventually made his way to the U.S. in 2016. He presented himself seeking asylum upon arriving to the U.S. border in California.

Although a hearing officer said Damus had a credible fear for returning to Haiti, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement put Damus in a Geauga County jail while his case worked its way through immigration court. Damus did not commit a crime. The Geauga County jail contracted service for ICE.

He was in jail for two years. His asylum was approved twice and then appealed twice during that time. In late 2018, a Cleveland Heights couple, Gary Benjamin and Melody Hart, advocated for his release and then sponsored and housed Damus.

Changes to federal policy made Damus’ family eligible to travel to the U.S. in 2023. Their travel plans were approved earlier this year, almost one year after applying. Since getting approved, the family’s travel plans were delayed multiple times, flights often canceled, due to growing unrest in Haiti.

The Damus family reunited at Hopkins Airport Tuesday evening.
J Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
The Damus family reunited at Hopkins Airport Tuesday evening.

“Ten years ago, I didn’t see my family. Now, my family and I together – this is a blessing, blessing for me,” Damus said. “Thank you so much for everybody who helped me.”

Benjamin, Hart, and other people from Northeast Ohio Haitian communities, joined Damus with gifts in hand at Hopkins for his family’s arrival.

Damus has been living on his own for four years in Cleveland Heights and works for a copper foundry in Bedford.

Damus’ wife and children have been approved for a two-year visit but will be working during that time to be granted full-time residency.

Corrected: April 5, 2024 at 8:59 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story misspelled Ansly Damus' name.
Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.