July 7, 2010

Today, Pedro told me that he was only going to be able to wait until July 31st to find out any results from the appeal or reopening of the case.  Every time he tells me a deadline, I think about what life will be like in Mexico.  We decided that is where we would meet up after he would be deported to Guatemala.  Both of us prefer not to live in Guatemala.  We do not know anyone there.

I have lived in Mexico before and I have to say, I did enjoy it.  I was young and free and I played soccer, worked out a lot, laid on the beach and learned Spanish.  I also lived on student loans.  It was really nice.  Now that we have Logan, our son, things are different.  I worry about schooling, healthcare, childcare, the ability to make a living, cultural differences, trying to pay my student loans and just being without our support network.  All of my friends, my family, and Pedro’s friends and family are here.

So, why is it that Pedro can’t wait until a decision is made?  Well, I wrote about that in “What is it like to be in Immigration Detention?”  To summarize it is difficult to be inside a place where you are powerless to make any decisions, where you are constantly told what to do and how to do it, where you are humiliated, yelled at and emotionally abused, where you are missing every important moment of your 3 year old son’s life and most of all, being held in a place where you do not deserve to be.

So, what if Pedro does sign the deportation papers?  We will try to visit him and our last interaction will be with glass between us.  I do not know what it is like in Guatemala.  I do not know how dangerous it is to travel from Guatemala to Mexico.  I worry the last time we see each other will be a forever goodbye.  I worry that our son will never be able to see him again.  I worry about Logan asking me “Where’s Daddy?” and having even more difficulty explaining than I already do.  What if he dies?  I do not know what I would do.  Life has been torture without him but at least I know he is alive.  I can talk to him on the phone and visit him.  But if he died……It scares me so much to think about it.  And it saddens me so profoundly to have lost 9 months of our lives as a family together. 

So how could he continue to live like this if it would take 3 more months?  Here is the “good news” (if you can call it that). There is talk of a possibility of improvements in the immigration detention centers.  They even announced there would be changes to the detainees but they were unclear what changes will actually be made.  A couple changes have been made but the actual announcement was made by ICE in September 2009 and no changes were made until June 2010.  Here is a list of the possible changes:

  • Allow visitors to come for as long as they like during a 12-hour periodeach day and on weekends.
  • Increase availability of legal supplies and postage to indigent detaineesfor legal correspondence.
  • Add research resources at the law libraries inside the detention center.
  • Play the “Know Your Rights” legal orientation video in each housing
    unit every day (not in lieu of in person legal programs but in addition to
  • Increase contact visitation space for legal counsel.
  • Design and provide an area at each facility for contact visitation.
  • Allow free movement within the institution for detainees of appropriate classification levels.
  • Allow detainees of appropriate classification levels to wear their own
    clothing, within reasonable limitation, and providing non-penal clothing
    for detainees to wear.
  • Eliminate lock downs and lights out for appropriate classification levels
  • Reduce the frequency of and, as reasonable, wholly eliminate patdown searches.
  • Provide more normalized common areas.
  • Soften the look for the facility with hanging plants, flower baskets, new paint colors, different bedding and furniture, wall graphics and framed pictures on the walls, and enhance the aesthetics of the living areas.
  • Expand programming for detainees to include movie nights, bingo, artsand crafts, dance, walk and exercise classes, health and welfare classes, basic cooking classes, tutoring and self-paced computer training on portable computer stations.
  • Provide celebrations of special occasions and allowing a detainee to
    receive outside, packaged food for celebrations and while visiting with
    family and friends.
  • Increase the number of phones and unmonitored lines for attorney calls.
  • Design new menus with greater variety and reduce repetition of food.
  • Offer continental breakfasts that are completely self serve on holidays and weekends.
  • Provide fresh carrot sticks and celery or other vegetables in a bar format.
  • Provide self-serve beverage bars.
  • Offer water and tea in the housing areas at all times.
  • Provide a unit manger so detainees have someone available to talk to and to solve problems in the facility other than the immediate guard.
  • Increase training unique to each facility so staff are aware of the nature and needs of the population of each facility.
  • Survey community-based immigration advocacy groups and
    immigration attorneys for suggestions that may improve
    communication and ease of access.
  • Designate an employee at each facility for consular access issues to improve consular access.
  • Ensure third party legal education programs are made available at all ICE sites.
  • Provide four hours or more hours of recreation in a natural setting,allowing for robust aerobic exercise.
  • Provide email access for detainees, as is currently provided at Hutto.
  • Provide internet-based free phone service.


When critics see these potential changes, they call the future detention facilities spas and resorts.  I can tell you from Pedro’s experience there is nothing they could do to that place that would make it resort-like.  I can also tell you that all of the detainees in Stewart Detention Center and others like it, have a either served their time for a crime that they commited and their sentence is complete OR more likely, they never commited a crime except for the civil “crime” of being in the US with no papers.  If they had “papers”, all of these detainees would be free.  A friend of mine, who works in a medium security prison with people who are actively serving time for criminal acts, told me that even the prisoners in her medium security prison get contact visits. 

The changes that have been made so far are: the detainees can visit each other in other pods, longer recreation time, and they hung plants and pictures.  Pedro has been honest with me and stated that none of these changes have affected him much.  The pain of his absence from us is not taken away by a plant, a picture, or being able to socialize with a stranger in another pod.  The pain will not be taken away even if we are given contact visits, the change we definitely want the most. 

If Stewart Detention Center allows contact visits, it may help Pedro keep fighting for a little while longer but no one can return a third of Logan’s life that Pedro has missed.  No one can give him back the experiences of him swimming for the first time, gaining a sense of humor, or the amazing process of Logan turning from a toddler to a little boy.  He has missed those life changing moments and so many more.  At the very least, a contact visit would allow Pedro to hug Logan. After all the pain of hearing him cry and not being able to comfort him, and after knowing Logan is hugging the phone because he can’t touch Pedro. And after hearing Logan say, “Where are you daddy?  Why you can’t come home?”  He could at least give him one hug, long enough to help him to hold on until we find out if the Immigration Court System is really capable of justice or if they believe it is a United States value to destroy immigrant families without reason.  We are praying for justice.

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Pedro was detained at Stewart Detention Center for 19 months.

NACARA is the type of relief Pedro was granted. Click here to find out what it is.