Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan wrote that criminal aliens are subject to speedy removal, but the reality is mired in bureaucracy and a troubling profit factor.
The news media would have you believe that President Donald Trump is sending teams of alien hunters across the nation to round up and forcefully deport innocent young people who came to the United States as children to pursue a better life. The story of these so-called “DREAMers” is a hot button political and human rights issue that has been grossly distorted in and by the media.
In USAToday on April 19, the story of 23-year-old Juan Manuel Montes was a Page One headline that received international attention. It was reported that he was to be the first person protected by President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to lose that status and be deported by the Trump administration.
A day later, the Department of Homeland Security reversed its position after new information revealed that Montes was taken to Mexico in error by a customs officer who approached and interrogated him near the Mexican border after he could not produce any identification. Juan Manuel Montes did in fact have protected status, the Department of Homeland Security stated in its reversal in a news release. Unlike the first story, however, the reversal was relegated by USAToday to the last page of its news section. (Alan Gomez, “Homeland Security reverses its claim on deported DREAMer,” April 20, 2017).
There are many young people in America who find themselves in the opposite position from Juan Manuel Montes. They came to America as children, adolescents, or young adults, but then committed a crime on U.S. soil. Being imprisoned here results in their removal, but only after U.S. justice has reaped the full punishment imposed by the courts.
It’s easy to strip a story like this down to its most basic components while omitting the human beings involved. But once you include that essential human factor, these stories read very differently. It was one year ago this month that I posted the story of Augie Reyes.
Augie, a native of Honduras, came to the United States as a child. At age 18, he committed a crime. Twenty-five years later, at age 43, Augie was released from prison to be handed over to ICE agents for deportation. For 22 of those 25 years in prison, Augie had been one of my friends, and still is.
“Criminal Aliens: The ICE Deportation of Augie Reyes” tells that story with an eye-opening account of the human factor in such a removal. We must not pretend that this human factor is not real. Like many foreign born young men in American prisons, Augie had long ago resigned himself to the fact that he could not remain in the United States. He made no effort to challenge the decision of his removal by an immigration judge, and during his last year here be made plans to leave this country on the best terms possible.
Then, as my post reveals in grim detail, Augie was dragged around the country for three months from county jails to private prisons as an ICE detainee. The story was so alarming that one reader from a Baltimore law firm sent the account to Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan who published a ruling that criminal aliens are subject to “speedy removal” from the U.S.
The State of New Hampshire joined a number of other states by signing an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security for the purpose of “Rapid Repatriation.” Under that agreement, offenders who face deportation can apply to be deported after serving only one-third of their prison sentence. However, there are a long list of offenses that are excluded from the Rapid Repatriation agreement. Augie served his entire sentence. So did Kewei Chen. So will Pornchai Moontri.
When it was finally over, Augie and his family could have, and gladly would have, avoided the entire three-month deportation ordeal by purchasing a plane ticket to go home. Instead, what should have been a $1,000 plane trip turned into twenty times that cost while Augie was dragged in restraints from jail to jail around the country, never knowing where he was, where he was going, or when he was going home – a home he had not seen, in over 30 years. Augie would be adjusting to freedom and a new country and culture all at once, but first had to face a Nazi-era cattle car transport trauma that lasted three months.
ENTER THE DRAG-ON
When I wrote “Prisons for Profit and Other Perversions of Justice” last week, I expressed my appreciation to Our Sunday Visitor and writer, Nicholas W. Smith for a well-written article, “Incentivized Incarceration: For-profit prisons.”
I was a lot less impressed with a few of OSV’s readers who commented on that article. One reader chastized Our Sunday Visitor for wading into a political topic that Catholic media had no business in. It’s a tired old argument that holds that a political issue could not also be a moral issue. With that logic, abortion and euthanasia are easily reduced to purely political issues as well. Another commenter wrote that those in prisons did something to get there, and one prison she visited was “like a country club,” and condemned people should just stay condemned, and the Church should just stay out of it.
A month ago on These Stone Walls, I wrote a post about the departure of our friend, Kewei Chen, a young man from Shanghai, China who, like Augie Reyes and Pornchai Moontri, was stranded in a U.S. prison at age 18. That post is “Stone Walls Cannot Repel Our Sadness or Contain our Joy.” Among the many comments on it is this one by TSW reader, Dorothy Stein:
“This is an extremely well written and moving account. One part of this post is infuriating, however. You wrote that Mr. Chen’s family would gladly purchase a ticket to bring him home after his three-year absence, ‘but the bureaucracy of deportation doesn’t allow for that.’ There are a whole lot of people making money by delaying this process… There is no reason why the Chinese Consulate could not simply issue travel documents and bring this young man home. His prison sentence is over. He is now a ‘detainee.’ Yet he sits in a jail waiting for someone to do something. The jail receives $83 per day, and to date has already received over $2,000 just on this one young man. That would be the cost of a ticket home. He has already been ordered deported. There is no further court proceeding. So why is he still in jail?”
Dorothy asks a good question. Well over a month after serving his entire prison sentence, Kewei Chen is still in the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and is still sitting in a county jail waiting … and waiting … and waiting. This troubling process seems not to have evolved a bit in the year since “Criminal Aliens: The ICE Deportation of Augie Reyes.”
It amazes me that the same issues at the heart of that post continue unaddressed. The ICE agents who met with Augie and who now meet with Chen instructed them that they must contact their respective consulates for travel documents before they can be sent home. However, the jail’s phone system does not allow the use of extension numbers that are required to reach consul officers. When Chen calls the Consulate of the People’s Republic of China in New York, he is told repeatedly to hang up and start over to call extensions that he is unable to reach because the jail phone system does not allow it.
A kind and brave TSW reader, whose career was that of a Senior Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Department, offered to help. She called the Chinese Consulate in New York four times, spoke with four different consul officers, was told four entirely different things, and then finally was told that the consulate will only speak with ICE agents or a lawyer. When she pressed, the consul officer said that the wait for needed travel documents “will be about six months to a year.”
So let’s do the math. If travel documents – which take about twenty minutes to process – are delayed by a year, and Chen sits in that jail for all that time, U.S. taxpayers will have funded over $30,000 to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for the cost of detention while awaiting travel documents. That’s about fifteen times the cost of a ticket home that Augie, and Chen, and their families had always been willing to purchase in the first place.
The human cost to Chen himself is far more severe than what America’s taxpayers would bear. Since the vast majority of his fellow detainees speak Spanish, and no one speaks Mandarin Chinese, Chen is a young man facing months of isolation in what is effectually solitary confinement – unless something can be done to assist the Consulate to act.
LINKS IN A CHAIN BEYOND THESE STONE WALLS
The first time I wrote about our friend, Chen, was in a post entitled “The Writing on the Wall Behind These Stone Walls.” Among other social media posts, it was posted to my Linkedln page that had been established awhile back by a friend and TSW reader. I have never actually seen Linkedln or my page, but I am always amazed by its reach.
A few days after posting about Chen, I received a message from James William Harris, an American teaching at the Hua Mao Foreign Language School in Quzhou, Zhejiang near Shanghai, China. Half a world away in Concord, New Hampshire, I showed the message to Kewei Chen who was amazed and excited to see it. Chen told me that while growing up in Shanghai, he had friends who went to that school and he knew it well.
After posting “Stone Walls Cannot Repel Our Sadness or Contain Our Joy,” my post about Chen’s release from prison, I heard from James Harris again. I was surprised to learn that he and his family had left China. He now teaches Religion, English, and Chinese at Paramus Catholic High School in Paramus, New Jersey, and they are most fortunate to have his very special expertise and witness there. James Harris is a link in a chain in this story, and I plan to write more about him soon.
James is also a leader in a Chinese Catholic community in New Jersey and New York. He sent my recent post about Chen’s departure from prison to many Chinese Catholics living there. They also discussed it after their Easter Sunday Mass. Some members of that community have now reached out to Chen in detention, and others have attempted to intervene with the Chinese Consulate in New York, though not yet with success.
The latest news – after becoming the squeaky wheel that this story needs to be – is that the Chinese Consulate will issue Chen his needed travel documents “soon.” Only time will tell what “soon” means, but for Chen sitting in lonely confinement while dreaming of home, soon cannot come soon enough.
Other TSW readers have also stepped up. Clare Farr, a Trademark attorney in Western Australia and part of an Intellectual Property law firm there, has agreed to assist Kewei Chen with the Chinese Consulates in Shanghai and New York. Clare has been a pivotal figure in obtaining the interest and assistance of the Thai Consulate in the case of Pornchai Moontri. Chen is deeply moved by this Divine Mercy outreach. So am I.
In a recent letter, Chen wrote that the first thing he will do upon arriving home is to hug his mother, father and little brother tightly, having not seen them for over three years. The second thing will be to visit Kentucky Fried Chicken. Think about that. A Chinese youngster stranded in an American prison longs to return to China to eat at KFC. Go figure!
The third thing, Chen assures me, will be to find and bookmark These Stone Walls. For it is now Divine Mercy, and not prison that will be his last and most enduring memory of America.