Inside Our Supposedly "Humane" Immigrant Detention Centers
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Inside the pod, the guard yelled at the women to quiet down. I sat down to talk with Julie, a British woman who’d been in the detention center for seven months because of a drug charge. She’s lived in the country for 20 years.
A guard opened the door and yelled Julie’s name. She looked up and smiled. She was being released. Winston, who’d taken her case, had argued in immigration court for her release on humanitarian grounds since Julie was the sole caregiver of her 7-year-old daughter. The girl was in foster care.
Julie slid off the bench and rushed into her cell to begin collecting her things, a stack of papers and some pictures of her daughter. The other women watched Julie as she left. One of them, a young black woman with tight cornrows and a baby face yelled after her. “Bye Julie, good luck with everything, okay.”
Julie barely slowed to respond, waving as she rushed out of the door.
The young black woman came to the table and sat down.
“She’s going to see her baby,” she said. “I want to see mine so bad.”
In a southern accent, she told me that she had to leave her 1-year-old baby with her mom near Miami. She and her boyfriend, the baby’s father, were both arrested after stealing clothes from a mall. Her appointed public defender, a private attorney with a state contract, told her to take a plea to get a lower sentence. The lawyer failed to tell her that the plea would result in detention and likely deportation.
She now awaits deportation to Haiti—a place she has never been. She was born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents and the Bahamian government does not consider her a citizen. The Haitians do. She came to the U.S. before her first birthday and has no remaining family in Haiti, nor did she ever learn to speak Creole. If she’s deported, she does not expect to see her baby again.
A recent investigation by the [Florida Center for Investigative Reporting found]( http://fcir.org/2011/11/13/u-s-deportees-to-haiti-jailed-without-cause-f...) that people deported to Haiti are incarcerated again when they land in the country—held in squalid jails where they have no access to clean water and risk contracting Cholera, but are denied access to medical care.
When I left the Baker detention center that afternoon, Julie was walking toward the building from the empty parking lot. She’d taken the cash from the box that held all the clothes and other possessions with which she’d arrived and asked the receptionist at the front of the jail where to find a cigarette. Leaning against one of the columns at the entrance of the jail, she lit one of the Winstons as she waited for a once-a-day shuttle bus to Jacksonville. From there, she planned take a bus to Fort Lauderdale where her daughter lives.
“Seven months and then they let me out,” she said. “Seems sort of silly to me.”
ICE’s stated rationale for detaining so many people is to ensure that those who may be deported appear for their court dates and comply with their deportation orders. ICE argues that unless it detains people, nobody would actually show up to court. In many cases, it’s true that posed with a game of legal Russian roulette, many choose not to play; but others simply are not flight risks. For someone like Julie, her only concern for four months behind bars was returning to her daughter. The absconder argument doesn’t hold a lot of weight.