I want your readers to know (if they don’t already) about the use that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is making of a public facility just down the road in Gadsden.
I will do this by telling you a story.
In 2016, a man named Constantin Bakala fled his homeland of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was a member of a pro-democracy party in opposition to the ruling, authoritarian regime.
He was tortured, his wife sexually abused multiple times, and his brother-in-law was murdered. He decided to flee his homeland with his wife and seven children.
Ten countries later, all the while risking the threat of more torture, kidnapping and more rape, they presented themselves at the San Ysidro (Calif.) Port of Entry in November 2017.
Constantin asked for a French interpreter (French being the language of the former Belgian Congo) to help him complete his application for asylum. That request was denied.
He completed his application with neither legal representation nor interpretation assistance. His application was rejected because (now pay attention) he completed it without an “official” French language interpreter.
It’s a shame Joseph Heller didn’t know about our asylum processing when he wrote his book “Catch 22.”
He was transferred to the Etowah County Detention Center (otherwise known as the county jail), which ICE uses as a detention facility for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.
As his processing moved forward, he came close to deportation back to his home country, where he would face certain death for his political views. Fortunately, the good people at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Diego were able to identify an immigration attorney who was able to obtain a stay on his deportation order.
While all this was going on, he was transferred to other detention centers in Virginia, Georgia and Louisiana before being returned to Etowah County.
ICE detainees are not kept with the rest of the jail population. Asylum seekers are not criminals, so why are they in jail?
Meanwhile, his wife and children remain in San Diego (she is wearing a locator device).
Constantin has skills in information technology, so he could be making a living and paying taxes instead of being incarcerated and supported with your and my tax dollars.
Because I am an Episcopalian with a known interest in migration issues, St. Luke’s found their way to me.
I have visited Constantin twice. Here’s what a visit to anyone in Etowah looks like.
You go to a website (www.jailfunds.com). There, you can make an appointment for a “video visit.”
You can also deposit money into a commissary account on behalf of the detainee or inmate. All you need is a credit card. There is a “service fee” charged when you contribute.
The visit requires that you go to Etowah County and sit in a room full of stools, monitors and cameras. At the appointed time, you sit at one of the stools and begin your visit. There are no personal, face-to-face visits permitted.
The first time I visited Constantin, I asked if he needed anything. He indicated to me that it would be helpful if he could have an English to French dictionary, to help him improve his English, so that he could understand the proceedings in immigration court.
I tried leaving it for him at the facility but was told I would have to mail it to him.
There are some 300 others in detention in the facility with him.
In both Huntsville and Birmingham, there are good people of faith who are participating in the Etowah Visitation Project. They arrange video visits with detainees who have been separated from their families.
In addition you can visit www.smartjailmail.com to send a detainee an email. You purchase $.50 “credits.”
Each e-mail costs one credit. If the detainee replies, that costs one credit as well. You can share credits with detainees. Every purchase of credits comes with a “service fee.”
The great detectives always “follow the money.”
Someone is making money on this operation. Etowah County is making money because ICE pays the detention center on a per-detainee, per-day basis.
Aren’t you proud that our state has a preferred detention center for asylum seekers?
Do you realize that it is not a crime to seek asylum in the United States?
Are these conditions under which you would choose to live?
Where is the “land of the free” in all of this?
How much is wrong here?
We need to live up to our own ideals. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights… among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
For my evangelical Christian brothers and sisters, does this not bother your conscience just a little bit?
What are you going to do about it?
Let me suggest. Place a call or write an e-mail to Gov. Ivey, Lt. Gov. Ainsworth, your state senator and your state representative. Tell them you find this whole situation morally repugnant and violates every Christian principle you know.
Write or call U.S. Senators Jones and Shelby and our Congressional representative, Robert Aderholt. Tell them Alabamans don’t want their federal tax dollars supporting such an evil system.