–who was born in
Antiguaand came to America legally as a small child
— was recently released after being locked up by immigration authorities for 1,144 days.
He doesn’t know why they finally let him go.
“Immigration called me, they told me I’m leaving. Just like that … with no why, ifs, and or buts,” Pierre, 47, told Business Insider a few weeks after he was released from York County Prison in Pennsylvania in October.
Locked Up Indefinitely
Pierre’s three-year nightmare signifies the Kafkaesque experience that some immigrants have when they’re locked away with violent criminals while the U.S. government tries to deport them. Every day, thousands of legal immigrants are detained while the government tries to deport them for a past crime, according to the ACLU.
“They treat us like county inmates. We are mixed with people doing 20 years for rape, sexual abuse,” Pierre, a carpenter by trade, told me from prison a few weeks before his release.
Pierre’s most recent serious crime was a 1996 drug conviction for which he had already served time. Pierre, a father of six kids, including two in the U.S. military, had paid his debt to U.S. society and put his life back together. It seems bizarre that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would try to detain him years after his 1997 release, but that practice is not unheard of.
A recent ACLU lawsuit claims ICE has been violating the Immigration and Nationality Act by detaining legal immigrants years after they’ve left prison and reintegrated into society. That law says the feds can detain and try to deport immigrants when they’re released from prison — not years later, according to the proposed class-action lawsuit.
Still, the lawsuit pointed to examples of immigrants who had been detained long after they had finished serving time for their crimes. One Mexican citizen was detained by ICE a decade after he was released from state custody.
“These people are often longtime legal residents, rehabilitated and leading productive lives in their communities,” the ACLU has noted.
Previously Deported To An Unknown Country
While Pierre was born on the Caribbean island of Antigua, it is definitely not home to him. Back in 1993, Pierre was deported to Antigua because of a conviction for cocaine possession, according to a judge’s order in his case. He hadn’t been in Antigua since he was a toddler and didn’t know anybody there.
Moreover, his kids were in still in America. Pierre claims his ex-wife had a drug addiction and he feared for the kids’ safety, according to court documents. Pierre illegally reentered the U.S. in August 1994. Two years later, he was convicted of making and distributing a controlled substance and went to prison for another year.
Pierre didn’t hear from ICE until 2009. That year, he went to pay a traffic fine and was arrested for illegally entering the country, he told Democracy Now.
Subsequently, he was shuttled around to seven facilities around the U.S. while he protested his deportation. He has been representing himself, since immigrant detainees have no right to a lawyer.
The High Costs Of Detaining Immigrants
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement said back in February that it costs $119 a day to detain an immigrant, Reuters reported. Instead of detaining people, ICE could have people wear electronic monitors while their immigration cases are under review. That would cost only $US17.78 a day, and immigrants could remain with their families while their fate was decided.
In March, the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center wrote ICE to point out how expensive it was to keep Pierre locked up and to advocate for his release.
ICE had already spent more than $US108,000 detaining Pierre by that point, according to the letter provided to me by another group advocating for Pierre called Families for Freedom.
“This startling figure will only increase if Mr. Pierre’s detention continues, and in light of the recent budget sequestration issues, continued expenditures on this case are not in the taxpayer’s or the agency’s best interests,” the letter stated.
That figure did increase, to about $US136,000, by the time Pierre was inexplicably released last month. Immigration authorities put him on a Greyhound bus to Washington, D.C., back home to his common-law wife, a U.S. citizen named Dorothy.
An Uncertain Future
Immigration officials gave Pierre a document telling him to report to ICE’s Virginia office, Pierre told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. He reported to the ICE office and was told to come back in May 2014.
He’s not sure whether the government still wants to deport him to Antigua. It’s also not clear why the government decided to release him now, though Goodman points out that he was released after another detainee from Antigua and Barbuda killed herself at the same facility where he was locked up.
Despite Pierre’s uncertainty, he can await his fate while staying at home with his family. He can hopefully earn money. Pierre’s family won’t have to send money to his prison account so he can buy basic items from the commissary.
And maybe he will be able to continue living in the only country he’s ever called home.
“I just wanted a second chance at life, you know?” Pierre told me. “I hadn’t had a criminal conviction in years. It’s not fair.”
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