Editor’s note: Carline’s (not her real name) story spans two decades, 1998 to the present day. A mother, an asylum seeker, a woman who was severely beaten and hospitalized in detention, her story is a stark reminder that our country’s history of abuse and discrimination against immigrants precedes our current Administration.
I first came to the U.S. from Haiti in 1998 when I was 28. I fled to escape political persecution; I was very involved in women’s and human rights there. My husband was killed for his political activities — shot 12 times in the middle of the street. I knew I had to get out of the country — and then try as hard as I could to get my three children out too.
I entered the country in Miami and stayed with various friends for a few months, then moved to California to look for work. But I couldn’t find a job because I didn’t have any papers. I spent my time going to school to learn English and taking classes at Skyline Community College. And I cooked and cleaned for the friends I was staying with.
I found out about a lady who could help bring my children to the U.S. from Haiti. She brought one of my daughters here in. In 2004, I made arrangements with her to transport another one of my daughters.
Then I got a call from Immigration in Miami saying they’d arrested this lady, and that I needed to come and pick up my daughter. The woman had been arrested for human trafficking — just for helping to reunite parents like me with their kids. I didn’t know it, but she had made a plea deal and given the Feds the names of the families she’d worked with.
As soon as I landed in Miami, I went to the Immigration center in the airport. They were expecting me because I had given them my flight info. All of a sudden, there were about fifteen FBI agents in their white shirts and black pants surrounding me. They’d been waiting for me. They knew everything about me.
They sat me down and started interrogating me. I kept asking them where my daughter was only to be told that she’d been sent back to Haiti on the very next plane after she arrived in Miami.
I felt like my entire world had crashed around me.
I was taken to the Federal Detention Center in Miami with shackles on my feet and hands, and around my waist. I spent two months there. All because I was trying to get my daughter out of Haiti.
I found out I needed to be transferred to California, where the case was being prosecuted. I had to go to nine different jails via a U.S. Marshall’s plane to get there. While you’re on the plane — three hours, four hours — you’re not allowed to move, to go to the bathroom, to even scratch yourself. The Marshalls all wore face masks and carried big guns. I didn’t have any idea what they looked like.
Finally I and about thirty others were dropped off at Travis Air Force Base, where a white bus came and took us to the Sacramento County Jail.
It was the worst place you could ever imagine.
Sometimes in the afternoons you’d see guards placing bags over people’s heads and beating them. They put some inmates in “the Shoe” to demoralize you. It’s solitary confinement. It’s a very tiny space — only one person can fit in the room. It has a sink but no shower and you only get to see a bit of sky. If you’re not mentally strong, you lose your mind. I was put in the Shoe three times for fasting.
Sometimes I would hear the guards dragging people out from the general population who were screaming “Help me, help me!”
When my case concluded, I was supposed to be transferred to a detention center, but instead I was sent back to the Sacramento County Jail, Building D, where they keep the immigration prisoners. I was transferred there on a Friday. The next day was shower day; they allow showers only once a week, but a Guatemalan woman said it had been three weeks since they’d been allowed to shower.
I lined up with everyone else with their little bars of soap and towels. The minute the door opened up, everyone rushed out to line up again for the showers. There was pushing and shoving and people trying to cut the line because we all wanted to shower so badly. The guards started shouting to us and then the siren started. Soon guards came bearing white plastic shields and masks and carrying batons. They started beating people up and yelling “Lockdown!”
By the time I realized what was going on, I’d fallen down. A guard was kicking me and yelling “Get up!” She stomped on my foot and I tried to stand up, but I fell down again and hit my head. Everything slowed down, as if in slow motion, and I passed out.
I woke up in the hospital. My leg was broken so badly the bone had broken through the skin. My face and neck were also bruised from the beating. My feet and hands were still handcuffed and it wasn’t until the next morning that they were removed so the doctor could take x-rays. I spent the entire night in terrible pain.
No one knew I was in the hospital. I was supposed to go to court on Monday. My lawyer kept asking where I was and was told they couldn’t tell him due to “security purposes.”
After a month I was sent back to detention — put by myself in a little room where I was expected to take care of myself. I had screws and a plate in my leg.
I wasn’t given any medication. I thought I was going to die.
My foot swelled up and I began losing circulation. I begged for a doctor, who eventually came and cut off my cast. But my leg continued to be swollen and I still didn’t have any medicine.
Finally, my lawyer was allowed to see me. He went to the judge and told him what was going on. He said, “That’s enough for this woman already. We have to find a way to get her out.”
I was taken to San Francisco for the hearing. I couldn’t sit up straight because of my neck pain and I had to have someone hold up my leg. The judge said, “Let this woman go home so she can be taken care of.” All the while the prosecutor was arguing I was a flight risk. He asked for bail of $120,000; it was set for $25,000. I had a lot of contacts in the Haitian community so was able to raise the 10% required.
I was taken back to Sacramento to wait for my release — which took until one o’clock the next morning. I was released with no medication, nothing. A friend from the Haitian community waited outside the detention center, picked me up, and took me to her house in Fairfield. My ankle had never healed properly so I went back to that same hospital where I had the first operation but because I didn’t have any insurance, they said they couldn’t help me.
I stayed in Fairfield until 2006, when I was finally granted asylum by a judge in San Francisco. I was then able to obtain a work permit and a Social Security number. Once I was eligible for MediCal I went to San Mateo County where they had to break my ankle and reset it again. I went back to Skyline Community College and earned my associate degree in cosmetology. I opened a hair salon shop, and then went back and studied sterilization processing. I ended up working in operating rooms in different medical facilities — and I’ve been doing that ever since.
In 2007, the prosecutor appealed the case in front of the judge, saying I was granted asylum illegally, after I had been in the country for seven years. They really wanted to deport me. But the judge, a woman, said, “As a mother, someone with a daughter, I can understand the actions of a desperate mother taking a desperate act.”
The judge refused to deport me. They all talked together and they agreed to grant me a withholding from removal — they let me stay, with my work permit — but I was in limbo. If you’re in withholding, you can’t go through the system and apply for a green card.
That was my status for 10 years.
Meanwhile my case went from Palo Alto to Oakland. I was told it was very complex. Finally I was referred to Stanford. After researching my case, they decided to take it. It took them a year to study my case and file an appeal. In 2015 they presented the case to ICE, who said they didn’t want to be involved anymore, so we ended back with the same woman judge — and she removed the withholding. So finally in 2016 I was able to get my green card.
It was my faith that kept me going through all this. I would talk to God every day and I knew he was listening. Deep in my heart, while I was in detention, I knew something good would happen. When my foot was broken, people inside fed me, gave me their own juice, took care of me and helped me have the strength to make it through another day.
The minute you enter the system you stop being a human and become an object. And it’s getting worse. I can’t imagine what people are facing now — having their children taken away and put in cages or given away to strangers. It affects me deeply. America has become inhuman.
My dream is to become a U.S. citizen so I can help others.