In late October 2015, a young woman came into the office and informed us that her mother, father and younger sister had been detained in Texas. In the middle of the night, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers entered Mr. M’s cell at the detention center and informed him that he was being transferred. Mr. M was flown on a private plane to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, about three hours away from the closest city. For several weeks, Mr. M’s wife and daughters did not know where he was.
When Mr. M’s daughter came to our firm, we accepted the case and quickly filed two motions with the immigration court in Stewart: a motion to set bond and a motion to consolidate.
On Nov. 25, 2015, the immigration judge denied Mr. M’s motion to set bond without stating a reason as to why. Our firm immediately decided to take the remainder of the case pro bono to help Mr. M and his family be reunified. After we filed an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the judge wrote an opinion explaining why he denied the motion for bond.
The judge denied the motion because he believed Mr. M was a flight risk. On appeal, we submitted to the BIA overwhelming evidence that the judge’s decision should be reversed, as it was plainly inconsistent with BIA precedent and with current law.
Mr. M met all of the factors for bond: (1) not a threat to national security; (2) not a bail risk; (3) no previous immigration offenses; (4) not a threat to the community; and (5) has abundant family in the United States.
A three-judge panel at the BIA held in Mr. M’s favor, stating, “In the instant case … we are not persuaded that no bond whatsoever should be available to the respondent.” The BIA remanded the case and instructed the judge to “set aftr-easonable bond for” Mr. M.
On April 5, 2016, after we filed a motion for bond redetermination, the prosecutor in Mr. M’s case requested the court to set a $10,000 bond; Mr. M, through counsel, requested $1,500. The judge ordered a bond of $35,000. Even though this amount did not seem “reasonable,” fortunately for Mr. M, his relatives and friends were able to collect the $35,000 for the bond and get him released from a place he called “hell on earth.” His case was finally transferred out of the Stewart Immigration Court.
On April 27, 2016, Mr. M visited our firm’s office as a free man. It was an emotional time for all of us involved in the case. Collectively, we spent more than 150 hours maneuvering a system at Stewart that was determined to keep immigrants in detention.
According to Mr. M, detainees at Stewart are working eight to 10 hours a day for only $1 to $4 per day. Detainees, for their protection, should be divided into groups: Red (people with prior serious convictions), Orange (prior low-level convictions), and Blue (first-time entrants, no criminal record). Yet, Blue and Orange detainees are routinely mixed with Red detainees, who have assaulted Blue and Orange detainees; this, in turn, leaves the detainees vulnerable with little to no communication between the detainees and the deportation officers.
Getting someone out of Stewart is not an easy task, and we were elated to have Mr. M out and able to rejoin his wife, daughters, and grandchildren while moving forward with his asylum claim. Miguel Palmeiro