by Edwin Carmona-Cruz
Editor’s note: Since this article was written, a judge in Aurora has granted a new bond hearing for Manuelo based on changed circumstances. His hearing will be held on Monday, December 10 at 8:30AM CT.
Manuelo* has lived in the United States for 21 years, since the age of 13. Most of his family lives in the United States. Manuelo is a positive role model, an avid soccer player, and a man of Christian faith. He has been held in immigration detention for nearly a year, since January 2018, enduring deplorable conditions while in ICE custody.
Manuelo has a single DUI conviction from 2003 — over 15 years ago. While he has pending DUI charges from January 2018, he never had his day in criminal court because the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department violated the TRUTH Act and cooperated with ICE, allowing ICE to apprehend Manuelo and detain him at the West County Detention Facility (WCDF) in Richmond, CA. For nearly 8 months, Manuelo was detained at WCDF while community protests for his release mounted. After the Sheriff’s office cancelled the County’s contract with ICE, ICE unilaterally and without prior notice transferred Manuelo to a privately-owned facility run by GEO Group in Aurora, Colorado, over 1,200 miles away from his family and pro bono attorney. During the transfer, Manuelo was handcuffed at his wrists and ankles for over 14 hours, with no food or water.
When he arrived in Aurora, he and 80–90 other detainees were crammed into a holding cell, with no beds or blankets, and access to a single open toilet. About a month after the transfer, there was a chicken pox and shingles outbreak. ICE subjected Manuelo and others in his pod to a 21-day quarantine, depriving him of medical attention and visitations from his pro bono attorney who traveled from California to meet with him. Several other detainees were forced to reschedule their hearings, thus prolonging their detention. On October 30, 2018, the quarantine was lifted but the extreme damage has already been done. Now, Manuelo awaits a decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals while his attorney requests a new bond hearing in hopes of reuniting him with his family.
Here, in two audio clips, Manuelo talks about the quarantine — and what keeps him going:
Translation: They just put us in quarantine, they didn’t give us any medical assistance or anything until later when we did things to call attention to ourselves. We had to go on hunger strike because they weren’t doing anything and they just put us in quarantine for 21 days. We demanded a doctor’s visit but they didn’t listen to us until we went on hunger strike. Only then did they speak with us and told us they’d do whatever possible to help but we told them we didn’t want to talk to them because they don’t do anything. The officers, the lieutenants and all the other higher ranking officers are just babysitters who just do the bare minimum and don’t care about anything else. So we tried to find a way because we felt like no one was helping us. It was frustrating because we’ve all been detained for a long time and the only thing we want is a chance to have our day in court. Due to this, which was their fault, it delayed everything. It really affected us because we were hoping to be freed as soon as possible and have our court dates in these last months but we couldn’t due to the quarantine. We felt like they didn’t listen to us and it was very frustrating.
Translation: My first message to people whose loved ones are inside detention is to continue supporting us because your support means a lot to those of us who are detained. Your support really helps. It’s really horrible being locked up, especially if you’ve never been locked up before for any reason and suddenly you’re locked up for many months. It’s very difficult and traumatizing and it requires a lot of spiritual and physical strength. Our families’ love is what kindles our resistance and for me personally it’s what motivates me.
*Name withheld by request; Translations provided by Liz Martinez of Freedom for Immigrants.