The Toxicity of an Immigration Prison

October 17, 2014

Getting out of the car the air hits you like a wet, soiled blanket. The smell is almost impossible to describe other than it’s a little worse than awful. It is almost like sulfur, but with a harder, more acidic edge. It’s a smell you would expect to smell if you were in a rancid, dungeon in a horror movie. It’s the kind of smell that wraps you up, enveloping your body and your soul. The smell is found outside the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, NJ. A facility gently placed amongst factories who are obviously making chemical weapons for Satan.

Essex, as I will refer to it, is a correctional facility that houses persons convicted of criminal offenses serving their sentences. For these persons it’s a jail, a prison, a correctional facility, if you will. For my clients, those being detained there by ICE, it’s a detention center. The first group is being punished and my clients, and those liked them are merely being detained and held to ensure their compliance with our civil immigration laws. Now, they may be eating lunch right next to a prisoner, but they are really a detainee. The prisoner is being punished and the detainee is simply being detained. An absurdity without a distinction.

I have represented scores of immigrants detained…ok…I’m going to start calling it what it is, imprisoned over the years. Typically they are not in jail for very long as they mostly will either be bonded out or deported, but there are, at times, those who will spend a considerable amount of time in jail. It is fascinating to witness the change of these individuals over time.

I have a client at Essex who was thrown in there back in June. He has a prior order of deportation so he’s not eligible for a bond. He is afraid to go back to his country so we are in the process of having his claim adjudicated and he is also applying for a U visa as a victim of a crime. In short, his U visa application will be approved and he will either be able to immigrate back to the US if deported or allowed to stay here upon approval. He has a wife and three children, a steady job and a minimal criminal record. He is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, but his release has not yet been approved.

I will call him, Jason, for the purpose of this tale. When I first met Jason he was extremely anxious, but optimistic about being able to be released. He was scared for sure, but believed he would be released and was somewhat impatient. After explaining the process and the fact that ICE can work slow and that we had many challenges with his case he began to level out.

I visited him a few weeks later and by then he realized that his release was not imminent and contrary to his prior belief, he believed his physical removal to his home country was inevitable and imminent. On this visit I had to reassure him that neither of those two beliefs were reasonable at this point in time. At this visit he was clearly much more agitated than he was on our first visit. His eyes would not focus and the level of trust that he exhibited at the onset seemed to be quickly dissipating.

About a month later I visited Jason again and he opened up and began to share much more of his story with me, which was helpful for his developing the fear he had of return to his country. On this visit I saw clearly that he was terrified to be returned to his country. His fear was no longer a convenience to keep him with his family, it was as palpable and bitter as the air outside the walls that confined him, tormented him and in a way, protected him. His trust level was back and though scared, he exhibited a determination that he had yet to demonstrate.

I just visited him yesterday and Jason was inquisitive about the progress of his case and understanding about how long it was taking. He had begun working in the jail and his job actually brought him outside of the facility to county offices as a cleaning crew. Being able to travel outside meant interaction with non-jail persons and best of all, outside food. It also kept his mind occupied and he seemed sharper and dare, I say, happier. Jason told me that he had gotten used to life inside there and while he it wasn’t ideal, it was survivable at the moment. He had fallen into a routine and had come to accept a very unreasonable situation.

I expect Jason to be released relatively soon as his case is progressing in such a manner. While Jason is adapting well, his family is suffering. Jason’s wife looks like a zombie and their children are emotionally breaking down.

The air inside Essex is normal, while the air outside is toxic. In this case and many others, the same can be said about the prisoners. Those on the inside fall into a normal routine becoming calm and resigned to their situation, much like the air on the inside. Their loved ones on the outside begin to breakdown, becoming toxic like the air right outside of Essex. Hopefully Jason will be released soon and him and his loved ones can be far away from the toxic air of Essex and rebuild their lives together.

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