by Cindy Knoebel
Natalia feels like she’s living a nightmare.
Her husband, Alexander, has been detained for over a year, and transferred multiple times. He has hypertension and, in 2013, underwent heart surgery. On January 30th of this year, while in detention in Louisiana, he lost consciousness and was briefly hospitalized. He was returned back to the facility after treatment just to find himself being put in solitary for 10 days. He still does not understand why.
On January 30th of this year, while in detention in Louisiana, [Alexander] lost consciousness and was briefly hospitalized.
Natalia sent an email to Freedom for Immigrants on February 1st describing the circumstances that brought her family to the US. “I escaped with my kids from Russia to US over four years ago,” she wrote. “We settled in Los Angeles, a city where we had some friends. We applied for asylum and have been waiting for our case to be decided by USCIS. My husband stayed behind in Russia.”
Alexander was a successful entrepreneur in Russia. But in an all-too-common story, the government falsely accused him of tax fraud in a ploy to punish him for standing up to the corrupt government of his region, and in an effort to take over Alexander’s business. He was sent to prison for two years, where he was tortured. When he was released, he discovered that indeed, the government had taken his business. Having managed to get his first sentence reduced, Alexander also learned the government planned to send him back to prison for additional, false charges.
“I don’t have words to explain all the suffering and pain he went through in Russia ..."
“I don’t have words to explain all the suffering and pain he went through in Russia, where he was tortured and terrified, humiliated and brutalized,” wrote Natalia, who now works as a teacher’s assistant with her own asylum application pending. “My husband took his chances to run from Russia and seek help here in the US. He asked for asylum at the Mexico-US border and has been detained ever since.”
Alexander, now 55, arrived in the US on January 19, 2019. He came to the port of entry in Tijuana, asked for asylum and was immediately incarcerated, first in Arizona, San Luis Regional Detention and Support Center.
A couple weeks later, he was transferred to the Tallahatchie Correctional Facility in Mississippi, then to Louisiana, where he was transferred twice. He is currently detained at LaSalle ICE Processing Center.
The family and Alexander himself have requested five times that he be paroled, but they have received two denials. Other requests went unanswered.
"...the official denials [for parole] ... appear to contain false information."
What’s extremely troubling about the official denials is that they appear to contain false information. The first, dated July 9, 2019 states that on April 10, 2018, ICE conducted an initial interview with Alexander. But Alexander hadn’t even arrived in the US yet. ICE also claims Alexander is a flight risk – but Natalia confirmed they provided ICE with a significant amount of evidence, including a signed affidavit from a friend who is a US citizen, guaranteeing that Alexander will live with his family and that he will assist him as needed.
The second denial, dated January 07, 2020 states that Alexander failed to provide certain additional documentation. Natalia disputes this, and says they added an additional affidavit from a man who was his business partner many years ago and knows him personally, as well as medical documents confirming Alexander’s poor health, and a litany of other documents. This denial also stated ICE interviewed Alexander on February 18, 2019 – but Natalia says this can’t be true because on that day her husband was transferred from the Tallahatchie Correctional Facility in Mississippi to the River Correctional Facility in Louisiana. Also, February 18 was a holiday, President’s Day.
She doesn’t know why her husband has been placed in solitary confinement. When she called and spoke to an official at the LaSalle facility, a woman explained that “he [Alexander] knows” and that it was against the law for her to provide Natalia with any information about her husband’s confinement – or current medical condition. Even though he was transferred back to his regular room ten days later, it is not clear why he was kept in isolation after his hypertension crisis.
Given her husband’s medical history, Natalia is fearful that her husband’s blood pressure is not being properly monitored. Since the January 30th incident, she has tried to obtain Alexander’s medical record, but her efforts have so far been unsuccessful. She wants to send a blood pressure meter to Alexander, so he can take his own readings, but was told that ICE wouldn’t allow it.
Last week, when Natalia called the LaSalle facility to ask about her husband, she was given the name and phone number of an officer to speak to. When Natalia finally reached the officer, he refused to review the family’s request for parole in spite of 16 supporting letters, two affidavits and an explanation of Alexander’s poor health.
"Where can my family find peace and hope for the future? We have no home in Russia. Everything is destroyed there."
“Where is humanity?” Natalia asked in her February 1st letter. “Where can my family find peace and hope for the future? We have no home in Russia. Everything is destroyed there. All [that’s] left is fear of death if we come back. All we ask is a fair review of our case. Why can’t he be here with us through all the legal battles we have to go through to prove that we deserve a chance to live a normal life, a chance to live and not to be tortured and killed?”
Author’s note: Freedom for Immigrants spoke with Natalia and her son on February 7th. We agreed to help her file a complaint against the Department of Homeland Security regarding her husband’s medical treatment, and to arrange for a volunteer to visit him at the LaSalle facility.