After listing off his numerous legal options over the phone and across the plexiglass, Fidencio looks right at me and says, “Yo quiero salir. Quiero regresar.” I translate to the Minnesota Detention Project attorney that he simply wants to leave, to return home. She explains briefly that this will result in a ten-year bar to his re-entry, that it will be very difficult for him to get back in again. Fidencio shuffles his feet, chains jangle, and he crosses his arms across his orange County prison jumpsuit. “No importa, I just want to get out. I can’t stay another week at Ramsey. Every day I stay in here I cannot make money for my family. Just get me out ahora.”
And so another father and husband is deported back to Honduras, his family left here to continue living in the shadows or to return to a country with little opportunity. About 8,000 people in Minnesota are currently in deportation proceedings, and some 200 to 300 are housed in one of five county jails where Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) rents space. The Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul typically houses 50-75 detainees, most of whom do not have any criminal conviction and are merely suspected of illegal entry. They share residence with indicted murderers, rapists, burglars, and drug addicts. Since most county jails are designed for one-night stays, few have outdoor yards and, as a result, detainees rarely see the light of day. At Ramsey County, detainees are incarcerated an average of 100 days. Most immigrants, by the time their day in Immigration Court finally arrives, will argue their case pro se before the Court and simply beg the judge to deport them back to their country of citizenship. [Aslanian, Sasha. MPR]
The number of immigrants detained each night in the United States is roughly 32,000. Many of that number have not been convicted or even charged with a crime but are, according to ICE, a flight risk. Immigrants represent the few civil court defendants incarcerated in such a way. Despite the obvious flight risk of certain delinquent fathers awaiting judgment on child support or traffic offenders awaiting their day in court, few other civil defendants are held in jail at all, let alone for months on end. Although anklet transponders are used by parole officers in oyhrt areas of law, ICE has so far rarely used such minimal safeguards for supposedly “innocent until proven guilty” immigrants, opting instead to pay $80/night for a total of $1.8 million/year. [Aslanian, Sasha. MPR].
Nationally, the housing and transfer system is so haphazard that some detainees are moved to a new detention facility without ever being served a notice detailing why they are being held. From 1999 to 2008 some 1.4 million detainee transfers occurred, often moving longtime residents of New York and LA to remote jails in Texas or Louisiana, far away from friends, legal counsel, or evidence for their immigration case. These detainee transfders typically send immigrants to the Fifth Circuit, the most hostile jurisdiction toward immigrants and the worst ration of immigration lawyers to detainees. [Bernstein, Nina. "Immigration Detention System Lapses Detailed. NYTimes].
This week, Rep. Gutierrez from Illinois introduced the first of a new wave of comprehensive immigration reform bills, this one entitled C.I.R. A.S.A.P. As Congress wraps up healthcare debates and begin to take up the issue Obama shelved until 2010, any comphrensive bill must seek to alleviate and remedy the current system of criminal detention of civil immigrant cases.