by Ann Smock
This is the story of Jose Yapila Daniel, a refugee from Angola. He has been imprisoned at the Adelanto Detention Facility, a for-profit jail in Southern California, for two years, ever since his arrival in the U.S., seeking asylum in 2018.
I have been corresponding with him regularly by letter, phone and video visit for practically the entire two years. Our exchanges are facilitated by the fact that I know French, which is his best language.
He fled Angola in 2018 after being jailed and tortured. His “crime” was to seek to take possession of family property when his father died. His uncle, a high-ranking officer in the police force had been managing the property. When the father died he refused to surrender it to Mr. Daniel. Instead, he had his nephew thrown in jail and beaten for days. A friend helped Mr. Daniel escape and fly to Ecuador. From there he traveled overland to San Ysidro, California, and presented himself at the border as an asylum seeker.
He passed his credible fear interview. But, understanding nothing about immigration law in the U.S., and unaware of the crucial importance of every word he said or did not say at this interview, he failed to make his story clear. (He spoke no English and no Spanish. French translation was done over the phone.) In particular, he did not explain that his uncle (who jailed him and had him beaten) is a member of the ruling party in Angola, a country widely condemned for human rights abuses, whereas his father (whose legacy Mr. Daniel sought to claim) was a member of the opposition party. Mr. Daniel did not explain the ethnic dimension of this conflict either. Nor did he describe clearly the pain inflicted upon him while he was incarcerated in Luanda. Basing their examination solely upon contradictions between his asylum application and his initial interview, the courts have ruled that Mr. Daniel’s life-threatening experience is a family squabble, and not grounds for asylum.
Daniel’s judge proclaimed at the hearing that he was lying.
His asylum case was heard by a resident judge at Adelanto who has a record of denying 83% of the asylum cases she hears. Another judge at Adelanto has granted asylum in 51% of her cases in the same time period. Daniel’s judge proclaimed at the hearing that he was lying. “Incredibility” is a charge that is not subject to legal appeal, supposedly because it can only be determined when looking the applicant in the eye. Every judge who has considered his case since—his appeal of the denial, his requests for bond, for a reopening of his case based on new evidence and on the basis of the principle of habeas corpus—has taken his “incredibility” for granted. One of the lawyers I spoke with about Mr. Daniel’s case observed that all immigrants should have a lawyer at the credible fear interview, because in effect everything is decided there.
His health is declining; he suffers from vertigo, loss of appetite, sleeplessness and despair.
Mr. Daniel has been imprisoned in our country for two years. For a while during the past spring we hoped he would be released on humanitarian grounds, due to the coronavirus. But no. He is currently one of only twenty men still held in his part of the Adelanto facility. All the people with whom he had managed to build some kind of sustaining relationship have been released; no one remains there with whom he shares a language and can speak at all easily. His health is declining; he suffers from vertigo, loss of appetite, sleeplessness and despair. He had been receiving medication, but he tells me that he no longer receives any medical attention. If I understand him clearly, he is no longer allowed to exercise or get any fresh air. He is at the end of his rope. (Editor's note: Please consider sending a letter of solidarity to Mr. Daniel and advocate for his release - contact info included below.)
He has exhausted every legal recourse, and a deportation order has been issued for him. But it is not possible to remove him, because Angola’s borders are still closed. He is simply being held indefinitely, with all the added dangers that COVID-19 has introduced, and despite several lawyers’ efforts on his behalf.
After I began writing this story I learned that Mr. Daniel has actually come down with COVID-19.
After I began writing this story I learned that Mr. Daniel has actually come down with COVID-19. He is now quarantined with eight other sick detainees, in worse shape than ever. He tells me that more detainees who have tested positive are regularly being introduced into the area where he is held. The phone connection there is so bad that it useless to try to speak with him, and the ICE officers are refusing to allow “legal calls” in another area where the connection allows actual conversation between detainees and their lawyers.
He has two sponsors ready to house and support him and guarantee that he obey court orders.
Jose Yapila Daniel has never harmed anyone anywhere, and never caused the slightest problem while in detention. He represents no danger to anyone here. He has two sponsors ready to house and support him and guarantee that he obey court orders. I cannot see how his continuing misery at the hands of the U.S. government can possibly be justified. Nor can I justify the government’s obstinate determination to remove him as soon as this becomes possible (in another month? another year? when?)--to Angola. The Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals have both systematically ignored information submitted to them documenting the disastrous political and social conditions in that country, as they bear specifically on Mr. Daniel. He was refused relief even under the Convention Against Torture, which forbids deporting a person to a country where he is even likely to be physically grievously mistreated.
We must eliminate [for-profit, private jails] altogether, and thoroughly reform the law and the court system so that people whose desire is simply to survive can find refuge here.
The purpose of this story is to underscore the cruelty of immigration law in the U.S., of our immigration courts and of for-profit, private jails. We must eliminate the latter altogether, and thoroughly reform the law and the court system so that people whose desire is simply to survive can find refuge here.
Author's note: I'm a member of Freedom for Immigrants. I used to visit detainees at Contra Costa County jail, and since that became impossible, my husband and I have tried to be helpful to a few immigrants from Central America, non-detainees and detainees--only a few. I never actually met Daniel; I got connected to him by a fellow volunteer, in the network, because he asked to speak to someone in French, and I know French. I've only communicated with him by letter, phone, email and video visit--but I've been doing that a lot for two years. April Newmx has helped out several times with Portuguese, getting documents from Angola and translating them from Portuguese, also speaking with a friend of Daniel's in Angola whose French is hard to understand and who prefers Portuguese.I'm a retired professor of French literature at U.C. Berkeley.Jose Yapila Daniel is his whole name. He prefers to be called Daniel, here in the U.S., I guess because it is easier for English speakers. But different people who have supported him in various ways use different names. I call him Daniel when addressing him, and Mr. Daniel, usually, when referring to him.
Please consider writing a letter of solidarity to Daniel:
J. Y. Daniel
A#215 672 418, E2B5L
Adelanto Detention Facility10400 Rancho Road
Adelanto, CA 92301 E2B5L
To urge Daniel's release, please email the Field Office Director at Adelanto, and the Assistant Director:
David Marin, Field Office Director David.A.Marin@ice.dhs.gov
Gabriel Valdez, Assistant Field Office Director Gabriel.A.Valdez@ice.dhs.gov
Los Angeles Field Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement