Friday, August 08, 2008

Freedom Haikus by Kriti Sharma

A sister of mine wrote these beautiful haikus in response to the continued detainment and violence by the ICE. May we remember that love is stronger than any wall.

From Kriti:
I wrote these haikus during writing group this Monday with Ziyad Busaileh's disappearance heavy on my mind. Baba Ziyad is about my father's age. And the second article is about Herbert Abdul, a Zimbawean immigrant who was taken to Etowah Detention Center. After he returned home, the article says, his four-year-old daughter climbed into bed with her parents just to make sure her father was still there. These Black August haikus are for every parent behind bars.
it hurts to know that
your wild unrelenting heart
beats now behind bars
wherever they took
your cherished body, father,
i am there with you
no one breaks kinship
with barbed wire and furtive trucks.
i am your daughter
your ID card is
a pocket-sized farce. they don't
know your sacred name
no one disappears.
never created, never
destroyed, our shared pulse
may i follow you
wherever you are, ever
witness to your life

For background..this is the article Kriti sent to our community a few days ago:
Y'all, this elder lived just down the road in Raleigh. Now he's at the Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama (read the article at the bottom of the email for more information on Etowah - it sounds like a horrendous place). MASF (Muslim American Society Freedom) is working on a "take action" campaign (Khalilah Sabra seems to be the point person on it). I don't know what to tell y'all in the meantime.

Here we are just living in the South. We're surrounded by all these black holes -- places that our people seem to disappear into, like Blackwater headquarters, or the Etowah Detention Center, or the local prison, or the military base down the road. Right here, part of the geography of the south, these places that maps are silent - so eerily silent - about. But they're real places holding real people who have real families. The land between here and there is unbroken - from Durham and Raleigh we could reach Etowah County Alabama, I suppose, by road. When do we go? When do we take back the entirety of this land, reclaim these places that have been fenced off and severed from the whole?


ICE Detains 60-Year-Old Palestinian Cardiac Patient Without Cause

By Dave Kaiser

WASHINGTON (Arab News) Aug. 2, 2008 – An investigation has begun into the detention by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) authorities of Ziyad Busaileh, a 60-year-old Palestinian immigrant residing in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Busaileh was arrested July 22 as he arrived home from a doctor's visit; he is a diabetic and cardiac patient of Carolina Caridiology Consultants, P.A.

"Upon arrest, Busaileh was not allowed to retrieve his eye glasses or medications (he is recovering from a recent surgery), was denied the right to make a phone call, strip searched at the detention center and subjected to a rigorous interrogation by ICE authorities," said Khalilah Sabra, North Carolina director of the Muslim American Society's MAS Freedom (MASF).

Sabra said that Busaileh was not offered legal counsel and was handicapped by a limited command of English (no interpreter was provided).

Busaileh was pressured under the threat of never seeing his family again "for the next five-years," into signing a document he could not possibly have fully comprehended.

Since entering the US, originally seeking treatment for the life-threatening health condition of a triplet son, Busaileh, whose own health began to deteriorate a few years ago, reported for voluntary registration when the 2002 National Security Entry/Exit Registration System was implemented shortly after Sept. 11 attacks.

Subsequent to registration, Busaileh, a tax-paying sandwich shop worker and father of four, checked in periodically by phone to verify his status — being told each time, "not to worry.

ICE officials routinely arrest immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes, or who have outstanding warrants against them, however, prior to his arrest, Busaiyeh had not violated any US law, and received no prior notice requiring him to surrender to ICE authorities.

Busaileh's detainment is one the latest examples of how immigration officials violate the basic rights of persons whom they arrest.

To compound matters, MAS Freedom has learned that on Tuesday, July 29, Busaileh was transferred to the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsen, Alabama — a facility known to provide insufficient medical care, restrict necessary dietary needs, violate detainees' rights to legal privilege and attorney-client communication, and for denying detainees the right to make phone calls.

Detainees of the facility have also complained of being subjected to three and four day periods each week of 24-hour lockdown — anyone complaining or talking subsequently punished by having their food placed directly onto the floor of their cell.

All persons, regardless of their status deserve humane and just treatment.

However, Busaileh has been denied the right to receive the prescribed dosage of his life-sustaining diabetes and heart medications.

Despite a July 25 statement provided by his treating physician acknowledging that his condition (ischemic cardiomyopathy) is such that he cannot sustain increased amounts of stress, and further asking that the patient/detainee be released to his home — Busaileh remains at the detention center — his fate and health in certain jeopardy.

MAS Freedom is preparing a letter of vigorous protest to ICE officials in Washington D.C. and North Carolina, as well as officials of the Etowah County Detention Center, and will continue to monitor and report on the Busaileh case as it develops.


Original Story:

Southern Inhospitality and Alabama's Etowah County Detention Center

Atlanta Magazine writer Steve Fennessy depicts Etowah County Detention as by far the most hostile ICE holding in the country – affirming MAS Freedom's concern for the well-being of Ziyad Busaileh

Among immigrants, the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, has achieved a notorious reputation. Glenn Fogle, an Atlanta immigration attorney, has made the two-hour drive to the Etowah jail many times to meet with clients. "It's the worst place I've ever been to," Fogle says of the jail, not far across the Georgia-Alabama border.

ATLANTA MAGAZINE.COM Hundreds of illegal aliens swept up by Atlanta immigration officers end up at a remote jail in Alabama, where conditions are bleak, the food is meager, and hope fades fast.

Herbert Abdul is an accountant by training, but he hasn't been in that line of work since leaving his native Zimbabwe eight years ago. There, he was a frequent protester of Robert Mugabe, who in 1980 became president of the landlocked southern African country. In recent years, Mugabe has solidified his reputation as a malicious despot—rigging elections to stay in power, destroying 700,000 homes of those who support his opposition, and presiding over a catastrophic economy that has the highest inflation rate in the world. Upwards of 3 million Zimbabweans have fled Mugabe's rule. One of those refugees was Herbert Abdul, who says he was jailed numerous times in Zimbabwe, where police beat the soles of his feet with batons and forced him to sing songs in praise of Mugabe.

In 1999, Abdul came to America. In Cincinnati, where his aunt lived, Abdul met a woman at a party. They married, and he hired an attorney in Ohio to begin the long process of winning a green card. But the marriage soon fell apart, and Abdul moved to Atlanta in 2000, where he reconnected with a woman he'd known from Zimbabwe who was also living here in metro Atlanta. They eventually married, had two children, and settled in Lilburn. Abdul also started a cleaning business, stenciling the name of the business on the side of his pickup.

One morning last November, Abdul was loading his truck in front of his home when he noticed some SUVs cruising slowly down his street. They stopped near his driveway. Three men got out and approached Abdul. At first, they asked about getting a cleaning estimate, but Abdul explained that, despite what was printed on the truck door, he was now in the flooring business. One man asked Abdul his name, and Abdul told him. Then the man produced a badge and explained that they were immigration officers with a warrant for his arrest. Abdul was being picked up because he'd missed an immigration court hearing in Ohio. Federal officials had mailed him a notice of the court date, but it had gone to his old Ohio address, so he never saw it. When he didn't show up in court, Abdul's name went onto a fugitive list kept by immigration officials. Which is how Herbert Abdul found himself handcuffed in his front yard, loaded into an SUV, and driven to Downtown Atlanta, where he became one of the 283,115 aliens detained last year by the federal government.

Alien detainees are not, by definition, criminals. This may seem like a politically loaded statement, given the debate that has sprung up about what to do with the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. But it's true: From a legal perspective, an undocumented alien in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is, quite simply, one party in a civil matter. A crime may have put them in the ICE crosshairs, but for many like Abdul, it is a procedural snafu that lands them behind bars while their cases are resolved. Usually this takes weeks, but it sometimes can take months or, occasionally, years.

One problem with the current system is that ICE officers are basically cops without a jail. There are few, if any, federal facilities devoted to immigrant detainees, so ICE must farm the job out—to county jails, to city lockups, and to privately run prisons. In the five years leading up to 2006, the number of detainees tripled, meaning the U.S. government now relies even more on local lockups. All together, there are 330 facilities nationwide that contract with the feds to house their detainees. One of the most popular is in Stewart County, southwest of Macon. Run by Corrections Corporation of America, the facility houses nothing but detainees. In Atlanta, city officials have found room to house a few hundred at the Atlanta City Detention Center. That's where Herbert Abdul spent the first eight weeks of his detention. ICE rules require that detainees be separated from the criminal population behind bars, so Abdul's jail mates were other immigrants caught up in the ICE web—some were waiting to be transferred to other facilities, others were waiting for ICE to secure them travel papers to their home countries, still others were waiting for their day in immigration court.

Everybody, though, was waiting. Abdul played chess with other inmates. He took part in pickup games of basketball and soccer. From the rec yard, detainees could see the Atlanta skyline. During the day, they could wander in and out of their cells. But it was still jail.

Abdul, who's thirty-four, wears a toothy grin and a cell phone on his hip that chirps every few minutes. His English is impeccable, which makes sense, as it's the primary language spoken in Zimbabwe. Despite assumptions Americans may make from his name, Abdul is a Christian; while he was in jail he took part in informal prayer sessions with other inmates. As the weeks went by behind bars, it was his faith, he says, that kept him sane. "I said to myself, 'I know I'm gonna get out. I'm innocent,'" Abdul says. "I used to pray. I thought, 'Lord, you know I am innocent.'"

The day Abdul was arrested, he shared a booking cell with several other detainees in the basement of 77 Forsyth Street, which houses ICE offices and immigration court. Soon they were split up, but one day in January, as Abdul was getting ready to be transferred to Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama, he recognized an incoming detainee as one of the men he'd shared a cell with months before. Abdul asked him where he was coming from. "Etowah," the man said. "It's not good."

Among immigrants, the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, has achieved a notorious reputation. Glenn Fogle, an Atlanta immigration attorney, has made the two-hour drive to the Etowah jail many times to meet with clients. "It's the worst place I've ever been to," Fogle says of the jail, not far across the Georgia-Alabama border. "To be locked in this tiny cell for twenty-one hours a day is horrendous."

Allison Neal, staff attorney for the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, collects correspondence from detainees at Etowah. One letter, dated February: "We are kept under a 21-hour lockdown; no access to fresh outside air, or outdoor recreational activities . . . Staffs are very verbal[ly] abusive." Another letter, dated May: "I previously requested for transfer several months ago, because of lack of outdoor exercise at Etowah, my request was denied because of a contention that Etowah meets the 'minimum standards.'" Another letter, signed by thirty-two detainees in August, 2004: "The amount of food served us as adults is less than enough for a five-year-old child. The daily servings are beans and cornbread; at times we are served mashed potatoes or rice, but the amount is two tablespoons, or when there is no cornbread, one slice of bread." Detainees have also complained about the cost of using the phones, about being forced into overcrowded cells, about being placed into segregation, and about inadequate medical care. To protest conditions at the jail, detainees have occasionally gone on hunger strikes.

Abdul remembers being led in handcuffs and leg irons into Etowah his first day there. Guards, he says, taunted the new arrivals, taking bets on who would get deported. Abdul was given the khaki uniform of a detainee and a pair of flip-flops. He was crammed into a cell with three other men. There were three hours of freedom each day—one after breakfast, one after lunch, one after dinner. "How do four men spend twenty-one hours a day in a cell?" Abdul says. "I slept and slept. I looked at pictures of my kids. I read the Bible."

After several weeks, Abdul was moved to another unit, where detainees had daytime access to a common area. But when he complained about preferential treatment given to one inmate, he was moved to a unit where the inmates were dressed not in khaki, as he was, but in red. These were the violent detainees, he was told. Abdul was put in a cell with a hulking inmate everyone called Congo. "He was talking to himself. He wouldn't take his eyes off me."

One morning Congo announced that today he was going to kill Abdul. Abdul started rattling the bars of the cell, ringing the buzzer. Guards finally opened the door.

The federal government pays Etowah County $35.12 a day for each detainee at the jail. The contract was hammered out in 2000, when the feds helped finance an $8 million addition to the jail. The contract doesn't expire until 2015. Patrick Simms, the Etowah County CEO, believes that Etowah is among the cheapest, if not the cheapest, facility in the country when it comes to housing inmates. Judging by his voice, this isn't meant as a boast.

"Looking back, I would have advised [county officials] not to get into it," he says. This year, revenues from the contract have brought in about $300,000 to county coffers. "That's about one mile of paved road," Simms says with a rueful chuckle. "The only one who's making a profit here is the sheriff."

The sheriff? In fact, a quirk in Alabama state law allows sheriffs to keep any money that is left over in the food budget after inmates are fed. No, not his office. Him. Personally. For instance, $3 of every $35.12 is set aside for meals, Simms says. If the sheriff can feed a detainee for less than that per day, he can pocket the difference. "It's an incentive for him to go as cheap as possible feeding inmates to maximize profits," Simms says. And because it's personal income, the sheriff is not obligated to disclose how much he profits. Interestingly, the sheriff of Etowah County, James Hayes, gets only $1.75 a day from the state to feed his normal criminal population; the extra $1.25 he gets from the feds to feed ICE detainees is, so to speak, icing on the cake. Hayes's office did not return calls seeking comment.

But according to Abdul, the food for detainees was sometimes worse than the food county inmates got. "The county [inmates] that would come in the unit to fix or replace something were always happy with the food and would talk about pizza and other menus," Abdul wrote in a letter of complaint. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away. In [Etowah], forget about seeing fruit unless you're watching a TV or a [corrections officer] eating." In fact, in the three months Abdul spent at Etowah, he remembers eating one apple—and it was given to him by a guard. Abdul says he lost ten pounds in jail.

Jail conditions for detainees have recently garnered some attention. Last December, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general released a fifty-four-page assessment of five detention facilities (none of them in Georgia or Alabama). Among its findings: Five out of thirty-six detainees on suicide watch weren't monitored sufficiently; at one facility, eight of nine pest control reports indicated evidence of rats and cockroaches; at another jail, detainees were served undercooked poultry; one detainee was given lockdown for wearing a religious head garment. Other findings included slow response time to detainee complaints, insufficient recreation time, and family visits cut off early. In one facility investigated by DHS, officials found that the property officer had stolen more than $300,000 in personal property from detainees. In a San Diego jail, a female detainee said a guard sexually assaulted her; the guard was fired. Despite the inspector general's findings, all five facilities had garnered an "acceptable" ranking during ICE's own inspections.

In July, the General Accounting Office inspected twenty-three detention facilities (again, none in Georgia or Alabama) and found that the phone systems available to detainees often weren't working properly. At one facility, deputies were armed with Tasers, even though ICE standards prohibit the use of them. The study also pointed out that ICE had never severed a contract with a jail for falling short of meeting standards.

The ACLU has filed three lawsuits to improve conditions at jails in Texas and California. In a report it issued in July, the ACLU's National Prisons Project said that since 2004, "it appears that at least twenty individuals have died in ICE custody."

On April 26, Abdul was freed on $25,000 bond. With Fogle as his lawyer, Abdul is seeking political asylum so he can remain in the U.S. with his wife and two children, both of whom are American citizens. Abdul worries that his history of anti-Mugabe activities—he maintains a website that highlights Mugabe's atrocities—have made him a marked man back home. "I know if I go back, in six months I'll be dead," he says.

Unfortunately, Abdul couldn't have picked a worse place in America in which to plead his case. When it comes to asylum cases, Atlanta is, statistically speaking, one of the toughest immigration courts in America.

While he waits, Abdul is rebuilding his flooring business. At night, his four-year-old daughter still climbs into bed with her parents, just to make sure her father is still there.

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