I was advocating and litigating from inside ICE detention for over 6 years, and I have since been deported

Photo Credit: Tina Shull

Before I begin my rendition I respectfully request you to not include my name because of the very sensitive nature of my situation. I fear repercussions from the autocratic regime in my country and for my chance to ever return to the US as I have two children there, who are my life and my sole reason to live.

I fled my country in 1992 because I faced severe persecution and torture due to my political affiliation, activism, and opinion. I was 16 years old and a student leader. In the West it would be difficult to understand how someone so young could be involved in politics, but in developing countries politics is a way of life, a religion. Teenage children are lured and groomed to be future leaders. Participation in politics is a mark of status and respected upbringing. Affluent families eagerly encourage their children to become involved with their preferred political party. I was one of them.

One day, an opposition member beat me viciously and left me for dead on the side of the street. I was in taken to the hospital by passersby and vendors. After I recovered from my coma, I went home with new insight as to how our party affiliates were being treated. Our party’s own founder, who was also the ousted president, had been arrested along with several ministers and party affiliates on false, bogus charges.

I reported my physical assault to the police, under command of the newly elected government in total opposition to my party. I along with other students with my party were arrested from schools and detained for several days. Many of my party’s affiliates were killed by the new government.

I was brutally tortured for three days and was forced under duress to renounce my party affiliation — or be killed.

My family was also ostracized, harassed, taunted, and targeted by homemade bombs. Fearing for our lives, we fled to another country. And from this other country I came to the US on a student visa to pursue higher learning. The year was 1993.

I fell in love with the American way of life. I loved the Bill of Rights, what the country stood for, the scenic beauty, the people, the hospitality.

I did not know till then that there was such a country that protects your speech and political opinion without facing any oppression or torture, or being killed.

Years passed and I violated my student visa status by overstaying without authorization from Immigration and Naturalization Services. I fell in love and was in that relationship for eight years, and now have two very beautiful and bright children, who are my life and reason to live and provide.

The mother of my children suffers from depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. She was clinically mentally imbalanced. She had a very bad and violent temperament. She broke my nose by punching, cracked my ribs by kicking me when I was asleep, shot at me with her dad’s rifle; thankfully she missed because it was dark and because I was running in a zig-zag pattern! I used to go to work with bruises and a swollen face, and if my coworkers asked what happened I would lie that I had an ATV accident or went camping and fell or got hit by branches. I kept my family secret even from my parents and sibling. No one knew my suffering except my ex’s family, but they too suffered in silence. I used to, sometimes, hate coming home knowing all too well how her mood was going to be that day. I used to just sit in my car for hours in the front yard, too afraid to go inside. I was embarrassed and too timid to tell anyone because I was a man and what kind of man gets beaten by a female? So, I suffered her abuses in silence with no one to defend me. I never hit her.

The mother of my children in turn called the police on me three times just to get me in trouble because she always feared that I may one day take our children to my birth country for good without her. That is the reason why she never submitted my immigration papers for me to have legal status.

In 2009, I lost my job due to the recession, and my ex hated me for that. It seemed to me that she kept me around because of my income. She was a stay-at-home mom. In January 2010, she called ICE and gave them my old passport, and ICE came and arrested me.

I was put in removal proceedings. The immigration judge ordered my removal for having a battery conviction and overstaying my student visa. I filed for asylum, but even though the judge and the higher immigration court believed that I suffered past persecution, they were not convinced that I would suffer future persecution, because so much time had passed since I left my native country. I relentlessly contested my asylum claim for over six years, trying to stay in the United States.

Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski, Wikimedia Commons

#### Six Years in Detention

During my time in various detention centers, I saw many human rights violations and abuses. I myself was a victim of such violations.

I have seen so many men with families get deported; many to their deaths in their native countries.

I have seen grown men cry because they were not able to see or hold their families. I have seen men who fought for the US in various combat situations get deported. Many of these veterans told me stories where they almost lost their lives.

I remember, in 2012, when I was in a very bad ICE-contracted detention center, a Dominican man in his 80s got deported. He was my cellmate. He showed me his bare chest where there was a very bad injury due to an exploding missile and told me there was still some shrapnel stuck so close to his heart that doctors could not remove it without killing him. He had been in the US since the 1950s. All his family was here, and he was deported because he had a drug conviction from the 1990s.

I saw several detainees try to commit suicide by slicing their wrists, taking medications, hanging by tying together bed sheets, or jumping from the upper floor of the dorm.

I have witnessed ICE agents physically assault detainees because the detainees refused to sign an ICE document, or refused to board a scheduled flight.

I, myself, was assaulted by four ICE agents on a commercial flight to a detention center in 2010**. I was punched in my abdomen, private area, and ribs, and was gagged inside the plane with all the passengers watching. I thought I was going to die that fateful day. What astonished me the most that day was that the pilot was also a racist and a bigot. He told me, pointing his finger at my face, to shut the fk up and that he was authorized to deport my f**king ass. Those were his exact words while the ICE agents stood there laughing and watching. I filed a complaint with the DHS civil rights department which oversees such incidents, but after three years of internal investigation, they stated the incident never happened!

Immigration proceedings are a civil matter, not a criminal matter unlike people held in jails and prisons, but in reality****all ICE detainees are held and treated the same as those in prison. Many ICE detainees come from jails and prisons, but these individuals finished serving their time and are squared up to society. But we are all facing the “double jeopardy” clause by doing more time in ICE-contracted jails.

Many of the ICE-contracted jails are maximum security with 12 hour lock-downs in very small cells. I was in one of the worst ICE detention centers in MacClenny, Florida, called Baker CDC. I was there for three years. There are absolutely no windows to see outside. It is a maximum security jail. I did not see the sun, moon, clouds, trees, or grass during that whole time. Even the jail officers are racists, mean, cold-hearted and disrespectful.

A majority of the detention centers serve very bad food. Meals are uncooked, overcooked, with rocks, dirt, hair, insects, and bits of sponge.

The medical care****provided is horrendous in many of these detention centers with very rude nurses and inadequate, inexperienced staff who do not give the proper medical attention. I know of many detainees suffering from various maladies because they were denied medical treatment. ICE deported several men quickly because the medical cost for the treatment was very expensive — guys with hernias, heart complications, kidney problems, tumors, etc. I have three herniated discs in my neck and suffer from constant throbbing pain, and the hospital surgeon I saw while in detention recommended immediate surgery because I face paralysis if I turn my neck suddenly, get whiplash, or am punched in the face. I figured an operation like that would cost ICE quite a bit, and indeed they gave me the runaround instead of the surgery.

The pain and suffering I faced on a regular basis is unfathomable. I would have never expected that my fate would show me such jails and inhumane treatments, but it did. There is so much more to my story of ICE detention, and ICE’s ruthless tactics in deporting individuals by using fake and invalid travel documents. ICE tried to physically deport me six times since 2010, while my case was still pending**.**


When I was deported, ICE chartered a flight with individuals from two countries.****We were shackled up with chains around our wrists, attached to our waist and feet, for 38 hours. All our wrists, waists, and ankles were swollen and bruised. We were deprived water, restroom access, and food.

We were cursed and threatened with physical violence. Such was my final moment in the United States.

I never dreamt in a thousand years that I would be in detention and go through what I have.

Please do not get me wrong. The US is the best country in the world, as I stated before. I love the US because you can be anything you want to be, unlike the country I was deported to very recently. Here I am struggling to survive. I have no forms of identification because I kept them with my cell phone, wallet, credit cards, and money, which were all confiscated. I along with my other deported countrymen have been labeled as militants by the autocratic regime here. I am living in hiding in a very remote village. I have no money to travel to get papers, clothes, or bare necessities.

In the US, corruption is not rampant like it is here. Here, everything requires bribes. Even to get a job one has to bribe and pay a lump sum to employers. In the US, scenic beauty is everywhere. The food is delicious and of variety.

The fault in the US is that certain senators, congressmen, and government agencies, like the DHS, are run by deplorable individuals, bigots who thrive on fear mongering. These officials get incentives from very powerful prison companies who want the contracts to keep detention centers open. These interest groups lobby in Washington, DC to keep all ICE detention centers open. CCA (Corrections Corporation of America), GEO Group, Doyon, Akal, and Bob Barker are some of the multimillion dollar companies who champion for such human rights violations, and win.

The voices of the few groups working on behalf of detained immigrants, like CIVIC, Etowah Visitation Program, and others, are not reaching the general masses because the truth is most Americans do not care for the plight of people in detention. I have been begging immigration advocates to blog about my story and the stories of others for six years, but no one sticks around for the haul. They fade away. It takes such a commitment and sacrifice that few are willing to undertake. While I was in detention I wrote to hundreds of advocacy organizations and legal aid clinics for assistance because I did not have an attorney or legal help. Every one closed their doors. Their excuses were always either, “we don’t have the resources,” or “you are too far away from us.” So, in ICE detention I spent time studying immigration and criminal law, and by doing so, I helped many detainees in there because they were just like me. I was a “jailhouse lawyer,” and seeing my helping others with their legal work, I was blacklisted by ICE and barred from helping others, barred from using the law library, and deliberately transferred to other facilities.

I beg anyone with a compassionate heart to advocate for an end to separating families. I am a dad and I love my two beautiful children more than anything in this world. When my children were born, I gave them my word of honor that I would never, ever abandon them, but here I am, oceans and thousands of miles from them. I cannot hold or comfort them. I was the backbone of my family and I cannot be there with them. How can I live with that?

Please forgive me for any shortcomings as they were not intentional. Please help the others who are detained and with families in the US. Please know you CAN make a difference by advocating. No one says it’s going to be easy and you WILL meet many setbacks and anguishes, but hold a steady ground and do not give up. If things were easier, everyone would be doing it, but it’s you and you CAN do it. Believe that thousands of good and hardworking immigrants are being separated daily from their families and many sent to their deaths. The United States has always been the foremost country that people are dying to get to because of all that she has to offer.



Editor’s note: This is Part I of TJ’s story. Part II, in which TJ will detail the accounts of asylum seekers he met on his journey, is forthcoming. 
Story written in TJ’s words; compiled and edited by Lisa Simmons and Marissa Esthimer.