by Jorge A. Millan
"With liberty and justice for all." To some, the morning pledge of allegiance was a formality to be routinely required. For me it was something different altogether. As I remember it, I could almost sense the somber feeling of being part of something bigger. The pledge harnessed in me feelings of safety, affirmation, and equality. Now in my mid-thirties, I lay here on my bunk in my 1,718th day in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention and wonder where all that palpable justice went.
My principles of Americanism began early. Though my true beginning was in Mexico, I arrived in the U.S. as an infant. Growing up, I never gave my citizenship much thought. I knew I was different, I just didn't feel it. Do I feel it now? Yes - yes I do.
In our looking-glass world of immigration enforcement, ICE can decide, for any number of reasons, to detain a noncitizen for weeks, months, or in my case, even years. To my family, my detention excites indignation, astonishment; to the legal system, perhaps little or no alarm.
Courts and commentators have long assumed that ICE detention is a form of civil confinement merely because the proceedings of which it is part are deemed civil - but how can they know what we detainees are going through as we are experiencing it - and they are not. Likewise, as immigration activists and lawyers argue the dangers of prolonged detention, they too can only speculate.
To set the foundation, I want to make it clear. I may be on American soil, but the American solidarity I grew up in stops at the steel-locked doors of my detention facility.
As with any other detainee, ICE detention presupposes my validity in this country. Unquestionably there are cultural, linguistic, and racial differences at play. But ICE detention - as I see it and live it - is nothing more than outright racial antagonism. For your own personal suffering, you may stay locked up and fight for your status in American society.
True, the most punitive features of penal confinement resonate through these walls, but ICE detention also runs on a different frequency. Here, you can feel it in the air; detainees are placed on the lowest possible sociological level. Whatever the name of your race, color of skin, or the nature of beliefs, you can't help but feel the mixture of uncouth indignities. It's not just the fact that most of our basic freedoms are taken away, it's the whole process itself. Our lives are being dissected at every stage and we are often criticized for past behaviors that don't reflect who we are today.
As with my own personal experiences, this has made me question my own self-worth and personal identity. What is to become of me? Does my life-long U.S. history and family ties mean nothing to you? And while this psychological warfare runs its daily course my living conditions are tightly regulated, and I am truly an alien to the free world.
During my stay, I've been the recipient of many bond hearings. Let me tell you, as I'm sure my fellow detainees will agree, at these hearings you feel like you are on trial. And when the Immigration Judge denies you release it might as well be a jailhouse sentence.
I know how this all sounds, but I don't bear any ill-feelings toward this country. After all, I am an American at heart. I suffer here not just for my livelihood, family, and children, but for the way the American flag made me feel as a child when I pledged my allegiance to it. I truly believe I will someday experience those feelings again.
So, if I could describe ICE detention in one word, I definitely wouldn't use the word "civil." Whatever cloak or disguise ICE detention may assume, this place tests the deepest notions of what is fair and right and just.
Thus, it is critical to consider, as Immigration Judge Anthony S. Murry, once asked me, "How long can ICE hold you?"
Editor's note: We recently received this essay from Mr. Millan. He also was able to publish it on WritersResist in November, 2018. According to the post: "Jorge Antonio Millan entered custody in 2013. To level the playing field, Millan has undertaken comprehensive paralegal and criminal justice studies while in Immigration detention." Unfortunately, as of today's posting on IMM Print, we have been unable to locate Mr. Millan or determine his current status.