One day in 1984, Jean Berrier Ciceron put his three young children and his pregnant wife on a plane from New York City to his home country of Haiti. He then severed all contact with his family.
What troubles Tucsonan Nanette Longchamp about this story isn't just that these children were cast off by their father; she's upset that they were "also forgotten by their country"—the United States.
Longchamp has been working to get the United States to recognize the children's citizenship since 2004. The children are now grown; Maude was born in 1976, Carmel in 1978, and Emmanuela in 1981—all in New York.
At her Armory Park home, Longchamp sits at her dining-room table with a thick file of correspondence and documents she's collected, including a power of attorney the siblings gave to Longchamp to allow her to get copies of their birth certificates and advocate on their behalf.
The birth certificates, however, aren't enough to prove citizenship.
Longchamp first heard about the three siblings when she was visiting her mother in Port-au-Prince in 2003. Her family was helping the siblings with food and their education. She met them in 2004 and felt compelled to help them return to the U.S.
"They have nothing. Their father never supported them. I think, for me, it's about being our brother's keeper," Longchamp says.
Once Longchamp secured the birth certificates, she talked to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince and sent the siblings there to find out what they needed to do to get U.S. passports. Longchamp says she also talked with an embassy representative—and what she heard was disheartening.
The conversation took place right after Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, and she was told there were 90 similar cases of people who were trying to re-enter the U.S. Longchamp says she also remembers being told that it would be easier if these three children didn't look so, well, Haitian and poor. The embassy rep told her that they needed progression pictures to prove that the birth certificates belonged to the siblings.
"Progression pictures? Who is going to pay for progression pictures?" Longchamp asks. "To me, it is just another example of how they are further disenfranchised."
The only childhood photo the siblings have is a tiny image of the three of them sitting next to a Christmas tree in Brooklyn.
"You can barely see their little faces," Longchamp says.
Longchamp then called on Rep Raúl Grijalva's office, since she lives in his district. She also wrote U.S. Sen. John McCain, and then-U.S. Sen. Hilary Clinton, since the Ciceron siblings were born in New York.
Longchamp says she never heard back from Clinton's office, and when she spoke to an aide in McCain's office, she was told that because she had contacted Grijalva's office first, McCain's office wouldn't help.
So Longchamp has continued to rely on Grijalva's office, but no one has yet reported back to her with any helpful information.
Adam Sarvana, Grijalva's communications director, says Grijalva's office is aware of Longchamp's request. The case, he says, remains an open file.
"But we can't comment on it," says Sarvana. He says that when someone like Longchamp calls for assistance, they are sometimes asked to sign a privacy-consent form, and this prevents the office from commenting.
Longchamp says she signed the consent form, and since then has only received e-mails from Grijalva's office asking if the situation has been resolved.
"Those e-mails made me wonder how much I needed to do on my own," Longchamp says.
About two years ago, Longchamp paid $30 to a Web site search company and was able to find the Ciceron siblings' father, who was listed as owning an auto-parts store in Brooklyn. Longchamp asked a relative in New York to talk to the father; Longchamp then followed up with a letter.
"Not long after that, we discovered he sold his business, and he moved, and we haven't been able to figure out where he went," Longchamp says.
Longchamp, however, hasn't given up on Grijalva. She hopes his office can help with the progression photos or work with the U.S. State Department to have the siblings' citizenship finally recognized by the embassy in Haiti.
"When I look at their story, I think about their early life in New York. What about the schools? Didn't (the school officials) wonder why they were no longer coming to school? There are many people who are culpable here," Longchamp says.
A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Education said that with a power of attorney, Longchamp could call the legal department to get a record of the Ciceron siblings' attendance in New York City schools.
Longchamp called last week and was told that there was no record of the siblings enrolled in New York City public schools. Longchamp says she'll call the Catholic Archdiocese of New York next to see if there is a record of them in private schools.
Longchamp says the siblings can't get help from their own family. The siblings told her they lived with an aunt, but their mother, now dead, was mentally ill. Eventually, they were all thrown out by the mother's family.
The Tucson Weekly could not get through to the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. But Rosemary Macray, media unit chief with the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, did get back to us.
In an e-mail, Macray wrote that because of privacy restrictions, she can't speak specifically on the Ciceron case. Applicants like them, however, are all asked to prove their identity and citizenship with a U.S. birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID.
"If that is not available, applicants are often asked to present progression pictures that show a person over a period of years. Such a series of photos enable the consular officer to follow the aging progression through facial characteristics from the last passport photo to the time of the current application," Macray wrote.
"If such photos are unavailable, another option in some cases is DNA tests to link the birth parent(s) listed on a U.S. birth certificate to the passport applicant."
The problem is getting the father to submit to DNA testing.
"It seems that Homeland Security should be able to get hold of the father, just like we did," Longchamp says. "From there, shouldn't it be easy to establish that these people are U.S. citizens?"