The BakerRipley Immigration & Citizenship program has represented detained immigrants in four Houston-area detention centers for the last two years.
This type of work is always difficult. Our clients are asylum seekers who have suffered unbelievable persecution and torture in their home countries, and now are fighting deportation while incarcerated.
Today, the stakes are even higher, as our clients are in jails with active COVID-19 outbreaks.
Cindy Ramirez, with BakerRipley’s Deportation Defense team, writes about her recent experience below — work that has been nationally recognized by Immigrant Justice Corps.
The fear in his voice crushed my heart
Due to his mental health condition, my client Anthony was detained in solitary confinement at Montgomery Processing Center (MPC) in Conroe, Texas.
Anthony coughed uncontrollably during our first phone call and apologized as if he had done something wrong.
Two weeks prior, he asked a guard to take him to the doctor because of the cough, but the guard refused, saying Anthony did not have coronavirus.
The fear in Anthony’s voice when we talked about coronavirus crushed my heart.
Anthony was going home
Anthony was taken to the doctor at my request, but he continued coughing during our calls. We worked on his immigration case while also preparing a request for ICE to release him.
Without legal representation, he would not have anyone advocating for his release. ICE will usually only consider your release if an attorney is filing requests on your behalf.
Around March 24, ICE confirmed that a guard at MPC tested positive for coronavirus. Soon after, ICE released him from detention.
BakerRipley quickly arranged transportation for Anthony’s aunt to meet him at his release. My heartbeat excitedly, hearing how happy he was to be going home.
It is a matter of public health
While relieved, I feel immense guilt because thousands are still in detention centers in the greater Houston area alone. Social distancing in these facilities is impossible. Even Anthony, who was isolated, got sick while detained.
Many of us are relying on a connection to loved ones in order to get through these difficult times.
A detained person’s ability to see or speak to their loved ones is already incredibly difficult. Furthermore, the ongoing pandemic and inhumane practices by ICE and private detention centers have made it even more difficult.
Even while in detention, clients are expected to prepare their immigration cases and attend court while terrified of coronavirus infection.
In addition, access to legal representation and advice is greatly inhibited. It often leads individuals to accept removal orders to escape the terror of detention during a pandemic.
As of publishing, there are 753 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among detainees in ICE custody. That number was 89 in April and will continue growing.
Releasing people from detention now is not a partisan issue. It is a matter of public health. No human should be expendable during the coronavirus pandemic.
NOTE: The client’s name was changed for his protection.