From translated* letter sent to FFI by Reineris Perez Gonzalez, currently detained at La Palma Correctional Center
This document is addressed to: Governors, Senators, Judges, Reporters, Journalists, Immigrant Support Organizations, Family members or any person willing to help us.
The government of the United States always opposed the Cuban dictatorship, which has been in power for more than 60 years and has dragged down other countries, like Venezuela and Nicaragua. We Cubans who fled the country used to be welcomed in the U.S. It was a problem for the Cuban government, because Cuba has a small population and most people work for the state. So, the economy is affected, since it’s based on human capital. That’s what’s behind the “Dangerousness” Law, which allows for any Cuban who doesn’t work for the government to be sent to prison. The law authorizes arbitrary imprisonment for anyone who fails to follow the government’s rules and direction. Now, the government of the United States has changed its immigration policy and no longer welcomes Cubans as they used to, even though the United States knows that Cuba is still a dictatorship ruled by the Castros, only now it’s governed by their puppets.
To deport those of us who don’t support the Cuban government is to hand us over to the dictators. If they don’t throw you in prison when you arrive, they harass you, even more than they did before you left. They cut off your social life and harass you until they find a reason to arrest you. Once you’re in prison, they move you around all the time so your family can’t find you. After a few years, they move you to another kind of prison, called a farm, where you’re forced to work in construction, in the lime kilns or coal furnaces, do farm work, etc. At the end, who benefits from all this? The post-Castro Castro dictatorship.
Most of us here who are asking for protection in the U.S. have been brutally abused physically, psychologically and even sexually; tortured and arrested solely for holding opinions different from those of the ruling, single-party communist government. Voting is compulsory but not free, there’s no respect for human rights, there’s no freedom of expression or freedom of the press and there’s no democracy. This is why we came here, to ask you to please help us. But instead, we’re abused and discriminated against by ICE and CORE-CIVIC workers in this prison called LA PALMA CORRECTIONAL CENTER, ELOY, ARIZONA. Five times a day, they lock us up in small cells with another person for more than an hour. This affects us psychologically, being locked up, because, as even they admit, we’re not prisoners. In addition, there’s a lot of COVID-19 infections here, but it’s impossible to maintain social distancing. We get to see daylight maybe one hour a day. We fled Cuba so we wouldn’t be put in prison and here we are, in prison. Because they won’t schedule our immigration court hearings, some people have been here for almost a year, and others are going on two or even more. We’re treated like commodities.
They don’t want us to wait outside detention while our claims are processed, because not many new immigrants are coming in. And they don’t want us to have our hearings here in detention because they want to prolong the amount of time we have to stay here inside, which is unfair. We’re stuck in limbo, locked up here, serving time without having committed a crime. The worst is that we don’t know how long we’ll be here. We’re not criminals and we haven’t done harm to anything or anyone; we’re just people, like everybody else. Some of us are professionals, with university degrees. We just want freedom.
There are detainees here who already lost their cases and others who ended up accepting or asking to be deported because couldn’t take being locked up and abused any longer. Even then, even with a deportation order, they can be detained here waiting for 7 months. They aren’t sent home to their countries or released with a deportation order. We don’t feel like prisoners anymore, much less detainees; what we feel like is “kidnapped.”
There’s a lot of COVID-19 here. Most of the holding areas are quarantined because so many people are infected. Lots of people are sick. Some people have multiple illnesses and many of us have gotten sick because of the stress, which affects us a lot psychologically. We don’t have adequate health care here and we’re not allowed to leave, even when we have U.S. citizens and permanent lawful residents as sponsors living here in the U.S., with all the documentation in order, committed to covering our needs such as health care, food, lodging, and transportation, and to participating in the immigration process until it’s done.
Despite the health emergency in here, immigrants continue to arrive from outside. This is the main source of the virus in the prison, besides the people who work here. Apparently our lives don’t matter to them. They don’t want to control the virus because that way they can keep us in detention and continue to make money off us. Besides the lack of resources and protection measures necessary to control the virus, medical care here is terrible and it’s slow. We all get the same food (those who are infected and those who aren’t) on the same plates after they’ve been barely washed (I say this from experience, because I worked in the kitchen; we, the detainees, do the washing up), even though we’ve repeatedly asked, please, can we use disposable plates. We’re human beings, but to them, as I said earlier: we’re commodities and business must go on.
If we try to speak out, like I’m doing here, they respond with pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets, even though all we’re asking for is simple answers. Our protests are peaceful, but it doesn’t matter, they come after us and then they put us in isolation, what we call “the hole.” Anytime they don’t like something, they threaten us with “the hole,” and they carry out their threats.
These are a few statements that ICE officers have made:
- Officer [name withheld] says that if we go on a hunger strike, they’ll tie us up and put tubes down our throats.
- According to Officer [name withheld], to get out of here we’d have to pay a lawyer 20 or 30 thousand dollars.
- Officer [name withheld] says we could be here for up to 9 years and we shouldn’t bother hiring lawyers because, in the end, he’s going to deport all of us, including detainee Adiel Hernandez Aguila, who has heart disease. The officer told him that if he needed a heart transplant, they’d give him one, but he won’t get out of here.
- Officer [name withheld], in the midst of a pandemic, told us that the number of dead and infected people that CNN reports is a lie and that everything is under control.
- Officer [name withheld] says that nobody who came in at a port of entry has a right to be released on parole.
- Officer [name withheld] says that the only way out of here is to get pregnant. Since we’re all men, that’s just disrespectful.
- Officer [name withheld] said that he didn’t know why there were Cubans and Venezuelans still detained, because according to policy, they shouldn’t be here long. He was ridiculing us, since he’s one of the heads of ICE, he knows our cases and he’s one of the ones who regularly denies us parole.
We’ve gone on hunger strikes when, for our 3 daily meals, all they’d give us was some cookies and a cheese or ham sandwich. Most of time the ham was green because it was past the expiration date. They’d feed us this way for two weeks or, once, it was for over 2 months. A lot of us got gastritis. We explain the problem and show the bosses, but they keep serving that food. It’s not just ham that’s gone bad, but milk that’s spoiled, etc, too. The food we can buy with our own money in the commissary most of time is expired or close to the expiration date. But we don’t have a choice. It’s the only place we can purchase food.
We also have a judge who’s racist and xenophobic, the much feared [name withheld], who doesn’t care about your case or the evidence. He hasn’t granted asylum to someone from Cuba, Venezuela or Nicaragua, countries known to be dictatorships, or to asylum seekers from other countries, for 1 year. I don’t think it’s possible that the thousands of people who’ve spent a year in this prison are all telling lies, as the judge says. He laughs and makes fun of your case outright in court. When gets the slightest bit upset, which is most of the time, and he yells at us and insults the detainees as well as the attorneys, and threatens to deport us. The majority of the few bonds he’s granted have been for $50,00 to $100,000, to people with no criminal record, who’ve never even been in the United States before. Meanwhile, the other judges who hear cases for people detained here and at the Eloy Detention Center do grant political asylum to detainees.
We believe that ICE operates with a lack of transparency here. The release rate is minimal, but 112 Cubans were transferred on March 8, 2020, to detention centers in other states. More than 80% of them were released under various conditions within three months. But it’s as if the state of Arizona belongs to another planet, because ICE operates differently here from in the rest of the country. In other places, immigrants are released, while here we stay on, for months and years. We don’t even know who it is who’d be responsible for deporting us; all we have is a name on a piece of paper, but we’ve never seen the person. We can’t get any information that could help our cases or would explain why they won’t release us after such a long time. They can’t give us an answer about why we can’t be released. The only way to get out is to be deported, that’s what the ICE officers say, talking down to us and using threats, insults, and racist terms.
The foundation of the 2018 and 2019 International Declaration of Human Rights, in Articles 3, 10, 12, 18, 19 and 20, and of the United States as a nation, is the idea that all human beings “are created equal” and are endowed with certain inalienable rights intended to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, to defend the right not to be tortured or subjected to other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment; the right not to be subjected to prolonged detention without charges or secret detention or other violations of the right to life, liberty and personal security.
Sections presented by Congress to the State Department under Title 19 of the U.S. Code, in sections 2464 and 1467, including section 116 (d) and 502 (b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, also regulate the protection of human rights and other civil rights.
For all the above reasons, we are asking you who are on the outside and can make our voices heard to kindly hear our pleas. We’re desperate. Our hands are tied. How much longer are we going to be locked up in this prison? This is a hell with no exit. We’ve asked to be released on bond, but we get the same condescending reply: “you’re not going to get out of here.”
Attached to this document are the names, IDs and signatures of other people detained at this location, who have suffered the same as I have or worse from being locked up so long. They are witnesses to and victims of all of the above.
Reineris Pérez González
*Thanks for translation goes to Amelia Simpson, a volunteer with Respond in Crisis