Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Robert's Story, cont.


"Thin Ice," an article I wrote for The Nation about US citizens being detained and deported by ICE, just scratches the surface of the information I gathered in the last few months. Lives really have been shattered. I met Robert, a US citizen deported twice, in his home in Los Angeles last week. He has a wife, who is a nurse, and a son, also named Robert. Robert Jr. was born in 1999. But his father wasn't around for most of his life. Dad was being held either in detention or in prison for no crime other than having a Spanish last name.

That's how Robert says he and dozens of others are screened when the Los Angeles County Jail releases its inmates each day. There are two release areas, one for Whites and Anglos, another for everyone else. "They only stop the people with Latino last names," he told me. I asked if he thought this would happen if his last name were Johnson. He said, "No they would not. It's discriminating." Once he was in the room of racially profiled suspected aliens, the ICE custodial agent looked at Robert's green card, disregarded Robert's assertion that he was a US citizen, and sent Robert to the El Centro Detention Center. One wrong waiting room changed Robert's life.

In Robert's living room we went through a chaotic box of papers, some duplicates, including records for people with similar names who were not him. He showed me the first deposition he gave to a judge on May 29, 2001 in El Centro. It states: "I was adopted by my father and mother of which my father is a native U.S. born citizen, namely [father's name] and mother who is now deceased." He gave this same information to two immigration judges who deported him, one who sentenced him to three years in prison for falsely impersonating a US citizen, and then finally the fourth judge who, with no additional documentation, released Robert on bond.

Robert described the stress of detention, the anxiety about losing his wife, his son, how detention "takes me away from my family. That's what matters to me. It's taking a piece of my heart out. I feel in myself that it was just dehumanized." Robert also feels a tremendous amount of guilt because he knows that because of his absence, they suffered. When he came home "it was very poor. In the refridgerator, they had no food." All those years away take a toll. Things between them are improving but it's still a sore point. "I still hear my wife, bringing it to my face: 'Only if you weren't deported. Only if you had your papers. It's the only thing. We're always fighting because of the fact of so many years [that I was gone]."

Even apart from missing his family, time in detention was hard: "I seen people in that process, in the immigration courts, they kill themselves. They kill themselves." Robert told me of the stress he felt, the building up of tension in his head so he thought it might explode, that he might explode, that he had no way to leave even though he never should never have been there, and he said that there were a lot of people in his same situation.

At a number of points it seemed that Robert's memory was slipping, that he would go back and forth between the narrative of his first trial and that of his second. Part of the reason for this is that he was shuffled all over the place, to several detention centers and several judges. But these are also symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Robert's in construction, framing, and is happy to have work right now. But he's in almost constant pain because of an injury from when he was in El Centro. He threw his back out throwing heavy pails of water to clean the floors. He did this for $1 a day "because sometimes at night you're hungry and want a snack." It is surprising that a few hundred detainees in Guantanamo have caused such a fuss but there is little outcry about the approximately 22,000 people going to sleep tonight in detention facilities in the far corners of the US mainland, who are not accused of any crime at all -- or they would be in the penal system -- many doing hard labor in exchange for a little snack.

4 comments:

mh said...

Thank you for this work. Terribly sad to read, but important. As the wife of an immigrant, I do not feel one bit reassured about this piece of "law and order." On the contrary, I worry that it won't be too long before we, like many countries, are looking back and cataloging our desaparecidos. Perhaps we are late in starting.

Anonymous said...

Great Post, it's really sad how things have gotten these days.

Alex said...

Thanks for posting this entry, really sad story but i hope people realize that ICE raids are extremely unfair.

Lal said...

Aww, if ICE is doing the charitable work of deporting U.S. citizens, I can nominate some to homeland security so our country will be more secure.

Dick Cheney
George Bush
William Gheen and ALIPAC
Lou Dobbs
Tom Tancredo
Michael Savage
Rush Limbaugh
Lamar Smith

 
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