Testimony of Rashed BinRashed
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Hearing on the Human Rights and Deportation and Detention Policies of Migrants in the United States
March 28, 2011
Following a civil war in my native country of Yemen, I came to the United States as a teenager seeking asylum. My father was politically active and was a member of the opposition party that lost the war. He started receiving verbal threats and other politically active people and their families were being kidnapped by the government’s intelligence service. During the asylum process, I received bad legal advice to apply under a different nationality and I obtained asylum as a Somali. In 2005, a police officer stopped me for a broken taillight and discovered my dual identity. The police officer contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who arrested and detained me. During my three years of detention, ICE transferred me to three different facilities: Dodge County Detention Center in Wisconsin, McHenry County Jail in Illinois, and Tri-County Detention Center in Ullin, Illinois, where I spent the most time. I was detained for nearly three years, and that whole time, I never knew when it would end. I never knew when I would be released.
Being in detention breaks you down psychologically. There is nothing you can do from the inside and very little others can do from the outside. You don’t have your cell phone or anyone’s contact information so it is hard to get in touch with anyone on the outside. You receive very little support, and families are broken apart because detainees are moved to other locations every few months without notification. If you have any questions, you don’t know who to ask and it was even more difficult for many of the detainees who couldn’t speak English well to communicate. When I spoke out in support of other detainees, or to defend them against mistreatment, I was punished and placed in segregation.
ICE officers are supposed to regularly visit detainees to answer questions about deportation procedures, medical concerns, and other issues. They did this at least once a month at the other centers, but in the year and a half I was at Tri-County, I only saw one ICE officer. He was from Kentucky and could not answer anyone’s questions. Because most detainees were so cut off from anyone who could help, they bombarded the officers with questions. You could see it in his eyes that he was not at all prepared. It seemed like ICE had total disregard whether we had any questions or concerns.
Immigrant detainees and federal and county prisoners are all mixed together, and the staff in the detention centers treats everyone the same whether they are violent criminals or immigrants. From the beginning I felt like a criminal, as if I had killed somebody, from the way they transported us to the way they handcuffed us to the way they handled us and talked to us.
Medical care in detention is inadequate and difficult to come by. I had to apply to get aspirin for a migraine and did not receive the medicine until a week later. During the two and a half years that I was detained, I didn’t have my glasses and the authorities wouldn’t approve any to be sent to me.
Throughout my time in detention, I constantly faced obstacles that made it difficult to practice my Muslim religion. At the end it came down to who was running the jail. During Ramadan the year I was at Dodge County, I refused to be in the meal area where everyone was eating because I was fasting. However, the officers told me that jail rules required me to be with the other detainees during the meal. I was placed in segregation for two weeks because I refused to come to the meal area. The officers at Dodge County also would not let Muslim detainees pray the Friday prayer. Things were somewhat better at McHenry County and at Tri-County. These jails did not provide kosher meals, but they offered vegetarian food. However, while McHenry and Tri-County provided priests and rabbis to guide prayers for other faiths, they did not provide an imam for Muslim detainees. We were allowed to pray on our own but we were left to do it ourselves.
Recreation seemed to be the least of their concerns at the jails where I was detained. At McHenry County Jail there was no such thing as outdoor recreation. We never breathed fresh air unless we were being transported. Dodge County was even worse because everything was covered and you couldn’t see outside; you were just locked up. At Tri-County they occasionally let us kick a soccer ball, but most of time we just stood outside.
The only class offered to detainees was English as a Second Language. Even those of us knew English attended the classes just so we could read and write and have something to do. Otherwise, we had to find our own activities – usually playing cards or watching TV. I know people who slept 18 hours a day.
The jails had libraries but there were few books in them. McHenry’s was the best equipped; there was a computer to access legal data and information about cases, and you could catch up on what was going on and trade information between detainees.
In the detention centers there is an extreme lack of access to legal counsel. Many people have a really hard time finding a lawyer, and there is very little they can do about that even if they had normal lives prior to being detained. The area in which I was being held at the first jail did not have a phone or a list of contact information for available resources. I was able to study immigration law and learn from my attorneys, unlike many others. I often gave others legal advice and helped them with their paperwork. Many detainees are misguided and receive poor advice and services, if they are able to get any at all.
I was fortunate enough to obtain a legal team through Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center, and even then we had to wait and wait for a court date to be scheduled. In a written decision the judge ordered that I be deported. I knew I would still face persecution if I were deported to Yemen, so we appealed this decision all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The Seventh Circuit ruled in my favor in 2007 and remanded my case back to the immigration courts, but ICE would not release me from detention until several months later, in March 2008, after friends and family paid my bond.
Life in Limbo
Three years later, my case is still in process. I now am left without any form of identification and I cannot legally work, go to school, drive a car, get medical care, or put anything in my name. I would like to have some type of ID just so that I can be recognized. I can’t make any plans. Even if I wanted to just quit and give up and return to Yemen, it would take three to six months.
It is sad. I always try to justify things so I can be stronger, but how can I justify this? I know immigration is supposed to be a civil matter, but how is it civil when everything from the interrogation to the way people are treated is so uncivil?