When I interrupted the president's speech to ask him to stop separating our immigrant families, Santiago Garcia-Leco was in his second week of custody at the El Paso Detention Center. He turned himself over to the Border Patrol, hoping to be detained, so that he could find cases of asylum seekers stuck inside the inhumane immigration prison. The president should hear the message loud and clear now: deportations need to stop, and he has the power to do it.
Santiago's message, like mine, was that the members of our community who are detained and deported matter. We will challenge immigration authorities, detention centers, and the President to bring them home.
Santiago, a 23-year-old undocumented young person from Marion, North Carolina, was escorted out of the detention center almost the same time his story was hitting newsprint Wednesday morning. He posted this message online:
I wish I could say that I am so happy to be out. I have to admit that as I was escorted out of El Paso Processing Center, it was with a heavy heart knowing that as their gate closed behind me all the brave fighters I have been honored and privileged to have known in the last two and a half weeks, were not as fortunate as me. As I write this post, my friends Kuldeep, Viesca, Ronaldo, Misael, Jose Ungo, Kumar, and so many more are still sitting inside a detention center that is determined to keep them caged in and making them feel like they are nothing but a disposable memory.
He did this for the people whose stories have not yet been heard. Inside the El Paso Detention Center, he found dozens of asylum seekers -- people fleeing violence and fear with only the hope of safety in the United States -- whom the Obama administration refuses to release from the prison. They remain locked up even after passing their 'credible fear' interviews -- proving to an asylum officer that they will be in grave danger if deported. According to a 2009 memo written by former ICE Director John Morton, people who have passed their credible fear interviews are supposed to be released from detention. In El Paso, they continue to languish out of sight, out of mind, outside of the law.
They have earned the right to make their asylum case in front of a judge -- they should be freed today. Santiago also found pregnant women detained and shackled, endangering their baby's health and their own, a shocking abuse even in the labyrinth of immigration detention. One of these women, Lucia, who is seven months pregnant, fled Guatemala to escape brutal beatings at the hands of an abusive husband. Instead of being received into a safe haven and cared for, she is locked up without adequate support and medical care. Local immigration attorneys have corroborated Santiago's story of the horrors inside El Paso.
I stand with Santiago in asking President Obama to bring Kuldeep, Viesca, Ronaldo, Misael, Jose Ungo, Kumar, Lucia and all those are detained at El Paso home today. He is not done fighting, and neither am I.
The El Paso Detention Center should be fully reviewed for the abuses that have been exposed. The President has the power to end these abuses, to release these men and women from detention and welcome them into our country. He has the power not to deport them.
This is not only smart thing to do, but the right thing to do. The legislative session and the ability to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform this year may be over, but the president still has an opportunity to make the system better. He should do so now.