Sergio has lived in the United States for 40 years; now he needs our help to get out of immigration detention. As told by Emmie RamirezEach time I visit someone in immigration detention, I’m given a name and number but have no clue how the person I’m about to meet looks. This has started to become somewhat of a natural routine for me, and it was no different the first time I visited Sergio. I was given his name, his booking number, and told he was an older man. So I sat and waited for the man whose face I did not yet know to be brought down to the visitation hall.
An older man came in anxiously looking for the numbered booth he had been assigned and finally he sat in front of me. He is a few years younger than my father but has the same salt and pepper facial hair. His arms and fingers were covered in paint the first time we met, and there have been traces of paint on his fingers each time since. He asked me my name and when I responded he said he had been waiting for me to visit him. He said they told him three weeks ago that someone by my name would visit. I was late, and he had many questions about the progress of his case.
Sergio has been caged for 18 months inside of a county jail in California that is contracted with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The government is trying to deport him, even though he has lived in the United States for over forty years.
Sergio says he volunteers to do different jobs in detention. It keeps him busy and his mind occupied. His day starts at four in the morning when he begins to pass out clean clothes to each of the men in immigration mods. For the past few weeks, he has been re-painting the walls. He is paid a dollar a day. He insists that he doesn’t mind the work. It keeps him busy, he says, and outside of a cell.
He tells me that there are men from all over the world inside here with him. They each are fluent in different languages so they begin to communicate with each other through signs. He and many others spend their time helping one another fill out forms that are needed to support their cases. He tells me he has learned a lot about immigration law as he’s been working on his case himself. But he’s come to a point where he can no longer move forward without the resources that he can only access from the outside.
“Aquí, estoy atorado,” he tells me repeatedly.
He no longer feels it’s possible to move forward with his case from inside a cage and without the necessary legal aid.
Sergio, like many others, has lost everything while inside immigration detention. The place he called home, his car, his job, and communication with family and friends. The two closest to him, his father and son, are constantly on his mind. Both have suffered a great deal and Sergio is unable to do anything while he remains a prisoner. His 90-year-old father’s health weighs heavy on his heart. His father is currently in a nursing home but doesn’t have any other family to watch over him. In the months that he has been confined, Sergio’s oldest son was struck by a car and badly hurt. He has not been able to hear much from him and is concerned about his mental and physical health.
He grows more anxious every week as he says more and more deadlines are approaching. Deadlines he’s unsure he’ll be able to meet. He has been granted a bond for $20,000 — this high cost has become standard for immigrants in detention these days. He fears that the opportunity to pay bond and be released will be taken away from him if he does not pay it soon. He tells me, all he needs is to pay that bond so he can pay a lawyer on the outside to assist with his case. He tells me he has very little support and fears he could lose everything if he is not given the chance to fight his case from home, outside this facility he’s come to know too well.
Since the age of 16, Sergio has been living and working in the United States. He has been a green card holder since 1984, but the Trump administration is trying to deport him based on a 2003 charge for receiving stolen property. For decades, he has worked as a landscaper and has been contributing to his retirement fund. If he loses his case and is deported, he could lose his pension and all that he has spent years working for. His family and everything he knows is here in California.
During our last visit, like so many of the other times, he tells me he will be trying to get in touch with CIVIC’s support network on the outside and ask if I can make sure to let them know he will be calling. He has a hard time getting a hold of people and the phone calls are very expensive. His voice is filled with anxiety and despair. He’s more worried now, than the first time I met with him, about paying off his bond. He tells me he fears his chance to be free will be taken away.
He assures me that he doesn’t want to hide anything; he wants the public to hear his story. I ask him if he’s sure as I’ve always been one to hold people’s stories close and not share unless asked by them to do so. I tell him that I will relay his messages and will be back next week.
When our time abruptly ends and his voice can no longer be heard on the other end of the phone, he gestures with his hand for me to call and I nod yes.
I can’t really know what he is feeling or going through day to day, but I know that there must be an end to all detention, that it is a system that works to isolate, dehumanize, and profit off of bodies.
I can only hope that those thirty minutes that we share give him some type of comfort and ease for the moment and the long fight ahead of him, and for us. I can’t make him any promises, but I will always try.
Emmie Ramirez is a college student in Los Angeles and a CIVIC-affiliated visitor volunteer.
Editor’s Note: We recently spoke with a friend who is currently being detained at the same facility as Sergio, and he told us, “If there was anyone I could get out of here, it would be Sergio.”