Critically Ill Man Deported Without Adequate Medication, Access to Care

An undocumented immigrant from Brooklyn was deported to his home country in the Caribbean on Wednesday without advance notice, despite serious cardiovascular issues that led him to fall ill on the flight and could soon lead to death without adequate care, according to his attorneys and a cardiologist who reviewed his case. 

His lawyers are now making an extraordinary request: They are asking a federal judge to order Immigration and Customs Enforcement to bring Andrew Yearwood, a 53-year-old father of six U.S. citizen children, back to New York to get life-saving treatment. They say his rights of due process are being denied by disrupting his medical care.

"The 28 years I was in the country I was paying taxes," Yearwood said. "There's no reason for them to deport me like that."

Yearwood ran a mechanic shop doing inspections for the taxi industry before he was picked up by ICE in April 2018 on his way to work. He said he had a marijuana possession conviction from 1999 and he had overstayed his visa, both of which got him flagged by ICE. But an ICE official said Yearwood had multiple criminal convictions over two decades.

Yearwood was detained at the Bergen County Jail, where a cardiovascular condition stemming from a 2008 heart attack worsened, he said, in part because the doctor at the jail denied his requests for appointments with specialists. (An aide to the sheriff, who runs the jail, did not return a call for comment.)

On Monday, Yearwood's attorneys made arrangements with ICE, which pays the Bergen County Jail to detain immigrants, to send a cardiologist to visit Yearwood later in the week. But before that could happen, Yearwood was awakened early Wednesday morning and taken to John F. Kennedy International Airport, where he was put on a flight to his country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  

At that point, "we scrambled to make clear that his life was being threatened by being put on a plane," said one of his attorneys, Gregory Copeland of NSC Community Legal Defense. But by then, it was too late — Yearwood was in the air, accompanied by ICE agents. U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl held an emergency court hearing by telephone indicating that Yearwood should not have been put on the flight, but he said he could not turn the plane around. 

Copeland believes that ICE's sudden removal of Yearwood from the country — he had a pending order of removal dating back to January, when he lost an appeal on his deportation case — was directly related to the fact that his legal team got involved in the case. "We've been seeing these retaliatory removals in response to our advocacy in the federal courts in the last month," he said. 

A spokeswoman for ICE would not respond to that allegation. She also said she could not comment on a detainee's medical care due to privacy protections.

Yearwood's attorneys also allege he was not provided all of his medication for the trip. In a letter to the court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Byars, representing ICE, said there was enough medicine to last at least six days. 

A cardiologist who has reviewed Yearwood's medical files, Dr. Akshay Pendyal, said that Yearwood has coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure, rendering his heart unable to properly pump blood through his body. In a court filing, Pendyal said the jail's medical summary forms "contain little meaningful information regarding his condition" and were nonetheless used to clear him for travel. Pendyal said his health is at risk if he travels by plane.

Yearwood said he did become sick on the flight. He vomited and was provided oxygen by plane personnel. He is now hospitalized, but he said there isn't a single cardiologist working on the island. In an interview on Friday afternoon, Yearwood said he was feeling better and may soon go to the home of a half-sister who lives on the island. 

But he hopes to be able to return to the U.S. for treatment. He said he doesn't know why his originally scheduled deportation date — July 26 — was moved up by two months. 

Sarah Gillman, one of his attorneys, said it is "curious that the minute a lawyer sends an email saying Mr. Yearwood would be meeting with doctors, he's all of a sudden taken away in silence, out of sight of everyone...and brought to the airport." 

"Imagine you're sleeping in your bed, someone comes and gets you, doesn't tell you they're coming to get you, doesn't tell you they're going to take you away — they take you away with your pajamas and say, 'Here's a plastic bag with some of your belongings,'" she said. "It's monstrous what they did, frankly." 

Gregory Copeland