How to Visit an ICE Detainee
Dean Stevens, August and September, 2017
I am in the middle of the Kafka-esque Draconian process of trying to set up a visit with an ICE detainee at South Bay. This is the saga of my attempt. I am hoping to adapt this into a letter to Sheriff Tomkins, cc’d to several people in the State House involved in prison and immigration issues. This is unconscionable, that it is virtually impossible to get a visit in a timely way, even when you are working hard on it, documenting every step, and live 15 minutes from the jail. Any thoughts, or ideas about how to expedite the process?
A guy I’ve known since he was a kid in El Salvador is in ICE detention, was nabbed on July 31. In a series of unfortunate State Police, seemingly Trump empowered nabbings, he was arrested, and soon after, the same thing happened to his brother and his brother-in-law. These are guys who have lived in Manchester, NH for over a decade, have worked restaurant and construction jobs over all those years, have never had any trouble with the law, have no path to becoming more documented. One of them , who was employee of the year at his restaurant for three years in a row, has been for six years married to a US citizen. The other one has a child born here, to his childhood sweetheart, who followed him to the US, and who also works full time. I happened to be in El Salvador in early August, soon after their detention, and their mother, whom I have known since 1991, pleaded with me to help them. So I went on this journey, to try and first visit them, then coordinate with their immigration lawyers on a strategy to find the best outcome for them, given this horrific political climate for immigrants.
One of them is being held at South Bay House of Corrections. I called about visiting. They told me that before being allowed to visit, you had to be on the detainees visitor list. The only way to do that, since you can’t talk to the inmate, or leave him a message, is to write him a letter, asking him to put you on his list of approved visitors. A detainee can only have three approved visitors on that list.
So I wrote him the postcard. Before it arrived, he was able to talk to his wife on the phone, and she told him I wanted to visit, and he said he would add me as one of the three he is allowed on the list. His wife lives in Manchester, NH, and has not been able to arrange to visit.
Knowing I was on the list, I called the jail. They said first you must come in, bearing a copy of your driver’s license and a stamped self addressed envelope. I came in. They had me fill out a form, submit the documents, and said to wait ten days. Today, 12 days after I applied, the sheaf of papers arrived. I was approved (phew!). But now, I am informed I have to call to make an appointment. You have to call on Tuesdays only, between 8 AM and 2:30 PM. I called his wife: she lives in New Hampshire, and has gone through the same rigamarole, and has called on the Tuesdays, and there is no answer. Her husband has now been detained for over two months, and she has not been able to visit him.
So…tomorrow is Tuesday, and I will call for the appointment. Most jails at least have visiting hours, where you show up, they summon the prisoner to the visiting room, you get frisked up and down and ushered into the visiting room. But with ICE it’s by appointment, with a few obstacles in the way to get the approval and make the appointment. I’ll next report on the results of my phone call tomorrow. By the way, among the sheaf of papers they sent: rules and regulations about visiting, proper attire, behavior, is a schedule of the visiting times for ICE detainees: Friday: 8:15 PM to 10:15 PM, and Sunday evening 5:15 PM to 6:15 PM or 6:30 PM to 7:45 PM. There is also another sheet informing me that there will be four weeks out of the year when there are no visits, once week every “quarter”…and it so happens that this next week, Sept. 10-17, is one of those “no-visit” weeks.
Tuesday, 9/12 8:03AM: called the”Appointments Desk: “your call will be answered in the order in which it was received”….the phone rang for 10 minutes…and someone answered saying that the appoinments person hadn’t come in yet, and that she had come in from another office, because they weren’t logges in yet, and asked me to call back in 15 minutes. So I called at 8:45 AM. This time there was amusic loop with a voice once every 30 seconds saying “thank you for your patience, please continue to hold”. I held for exactly one hour, until 9:45, when my case in South Boston District Court (I am a Spanish Court Interpreter) was being called, and I had to hang up. I called again at 10:03 AM, during a break, got the same hold tape loop….and waited on hold until 10:25AM.
Called again at 12:30…..waited 10 minutes, and finally got the appointments person. “Sorry”, she said, “you can’t see him this week: his two other visitors (wife and father-in law) have called and made appointments, and he is limited to 2 per week”. Call next Tuesday, she says. I ask her how many ICE detainees there are at South Bay. She says about 60. Do they have visitors? Most of them don’t she says, lots of them she says don’t want visitors. I find that hard to believe. It makes me want to find some clergy who are working with ICE detainees.
Any immigration lawyers out there can help me with this? Why is it so hard? A visit seems simple enough. Why the obstacles?
To be continued!!!! —Dean
On Sept. 14 I wrote the first part of a story about trying to visit an ICE Detainee at South Bay House of Corrections (see post on my FB page). Here is the final part of the saga:
On Tues. Sept. 19, I called again during the hours that the visitor appointment desk is open (8 AM-2:30 PM). Amazingly, I got right through, and was given an appointment for the following Friday, at 8:15PM, and told to show up at 7:30 PM. Bring the paperwork we sent you, along with the envelope it came in (that would be the SASE they asked me to bring when I applied for the visit, in which they had sent me the paperwork. I had recycled it the day the envelope arrived, but certainly did have the sheaf of paperwork).
I arrived on Friday evening, 7:30 PM. There were several visitors, all arriving at 7:30. It took the desk about 5 minutes to process us, take our ID and be given a key to the locker where you would store everything in your pockets. They did ask me if I had the envelope that the paperwork had come in…and I said no, luckily they still let me proceed with the visit!). They were a little suspicious of my footwear, Crocs, but upon seeing that they had a back strap, they were OK’d for the visit (I had another pair in the car, just in case).
Then we waited for 40 minutes, nothing but locker keys in hand, until 8:15 rolled around. We had to line up, turn our pockets inside out, and go in front of an officer who made us open our mouths and move our tongues around. Then it was through the metal detector, and to the visiting room. There were seven visitors placed at tables. While waiting for the visitors to arrive, we were told the rules: no kissing, a brief hug only. keep your hands on the table, feet on the floor. There were seven visitors and five prison guards supervising the visit.
The guy I was visiting was really happy to see me, calm, and really at peace with himself and his situation. I told him I had promised his Mom that I would visit him. I told him about his brother and brother-in-law, also arrested in similar circumstances by State Police in New Hampshire, and how we had attended their bail hearing. Ten of us, El Salvador Sister City activists, plus some friends and family, had been present at the hearing, and the judge commented on the strength of the support these two men had in the community. I told him that when there was a hearing for him, (still not sure when), we would be there for him as well.
We talked a lot about Teosinte, where his parents came from, the village I have visited regularly since 1991 when it was a refugee repopulation. This young man had been born in the Honduras refugee camp, before the 1988 return. I had not seen him since he came to the US in 2005, but I see his parents every six months, and had just been with them last month, in August.
The visit ended, and I said goodbye, went out to the lobby, took my belongings out of the locker, and headed out the door. It was pushing 10 PM, and I went to a store. Upon paying for my purchases, I realized I had left my drivers’ license at South Bay. You see, lots of prisons have lockers where you pay a quarter for the right to have a key to take with you in the jail visit. When you return, you just open the locker, and leave the key in the slot. This was not that system. At South Bay, you leave your drivers’ license as collateral that you will return the key to the desk. ….So I got tripped up.
I called South Bay immediately, and the desk officer said “Yes we’ve got it, we’re here, come on by and pick it up”. So I drove all the way back to South Bay, about 20 minutes. When I got there the desk was all locked up, and they said I had to come back the next day. My boo boo, still, I’m sure there was someone there who could have opened the office to get my license for me. This place is such a mean, nasty vibe, and you don’t want to push any buttons. Finally, on Sunday morning, on the way to church, I got my license back!
So what do I come away with from this experience? It is the era of Trump. Immigrants are vilified, and mistreated , especially by law enforcement. They grow your food, mow your lawn, fix your roof, clean Donald tRump’s hotel rooms, clean your grandma’s bedpans: Still they have no rights. Even the most basic thing, the right to be visited in detention by family and friends, is really impossibly difficult. My friend’s US citizen wife and father-in-law had to wait six weeks before finally getting to visit him. My friend’s siblings in Manchester cannot visit him, they are all in undocumented or semi-documented status, and live over an hour away: to go through the hoops I went through is very difficult , no, impossible for them, and they worry about being nabbed upon showing up for a visit. It took me more than a month to make this visit happen.
I am trying to formulate what effective activism to do in light of this experience. I am open to suggestions. Join MIRA, write letters that say that the solution to 15,000,000 undocumented immigrants in this country, (doing every kind of job that capitalism’s race to the bottom allows them to do, and there are lots of jobs that fit that description), is not to go on a drunken, hate filled, politically motivated deportation binge.
These folks need to be brought out of the shadows and documented in an orderly way. My undocumented Salvadoran friends don’t have a path to anywhere except the next day of work to support their kids and their families. They are so hidden in the shadows, afraid to show their faces. I heard on the radio about random ICE check points in NH, along the interstate, randomly checking IDs, nabbing undocumented folks, also nabbing other random lawbreakers. Could this pass constitutional muster?
lawyer in a district court told me about a notice to public defenders from CPCS, the MA public defenders entity, warning lawyers that ICE is on the front steps of some courthouses at 9 AM weekdays, looking for people to nab when they come in to clear up a charge or a ticket, to file for a restraining order, anything that might bring them to a public building. Are the hospitals and public schools next?
I just come away with a great sadness for our country. Emma Lazarus, where are you when we need you?