The last three and a half years have made the process much harder for migrants like Samuel. “Thinking about the third country transit ban, thinking about the wait times in Tijuana, thinking about the impossibility of getting through this process some other way than by what is happening — to reunite with family members and be somewhere that you can be safe and protected,” Owings said, “those are complications that you kind of have to face and prepare for, and those are things I did not have to do in prior administrations. “There’s no way you can be in a detention center and you’re fine — there’s no way.
Around the time Samuel was granted full asylum, Owings drove to Basile, another small Louisiana town kept afloat by a detention center, to meet with a different client whose case has been a little rockier than Samuel’s.
According to The Associated Press, which toured Winn in October 2019, detainees have to walk with their hands clasped behind their back, “as if they are handcuffed. ” Samuel said he and the other detainees weren’t allowed to go to certain parts of the detention center without permission — which could be difficult to get, particularly for the law library, a lifeline for detainees without legal representation who had to fight their cases alone.
Video hearings, which allow ICE to detain immigrants far from lawyers and nonprofit organizations, compound the problem further. (Samuel’s family initially looked for a lawyer in Boston, where they live; they were referred to Owings, one of only a handful of attorneys who takes the cases of people detained at Winn.
Suddenly, the state’s prisons and jails were emptying out, putting Winn at risk of shutting down for good. “With the new state laws to decrease inmates, our numbers were going down,” Winn Parish sheriff Cranford Jordan told the Natchitoches Times in 2019. (The Winn Parish Sheriff’s Office did not respond to multiple requests for comment and did not acknowledge repeated public records requests regarding its contracts with ICE and LaSalle Corrections. “I feel we are doing our part to support the president.
In Georgia, where the majority of her clients are detained, the odds are even slimmer: judges in Atlanta denied more than 97 percent of asylum cases between fiscal years 2014 and 2019. “There’s definitely a thumb on the scale, and winning doesn’t always look like winning,” Owings told me. “Winning looks like doing your very best, getting everything out there, making sure that you didn’t have any forced errors. You didn’t screw up.
Samuel’s prolonged detention was emotionally draining for him, but it was a huge financial gain for LaSalle Corrections, which profited off each night Samuel spent in a cell, and for Winn Parish, which took a cut of those grosses.
More than anything else, Samuel wanted to regain the stability he had lost three years earlier, when Cameroon’s Francophone government began arresting protesters who opposed the state’s oppression of the country’s Anglophone region. (Samuel is a pseudonym; he asked to be kept anonymous to protect his family in Cameroon. ) An armed separatist group had waged war on the government, calling for an independent Anglophone state, hundreds of young Anglophone men were caught in the middle.
Court hearings in ICE detention were open to the public, but I wasn’t allowed in Winn because, technically speaking, it wasn’t a courtroom at all. So what was it? No one could tell me. “There are some ICE facilities that have detention facilities with immigration courts on the premises,” Cox said. “Winn is not one of them.
Some of the friends Samuel made at Winn are still detained, including one who has been at Winn for twice as long as Samuel was. “He said he’s fine, but he’s been in there for a year now,” Samuel told me. “I know he’s not fine.
That money flows to LaSalle Corrections as well as local government. (LaSalle also donated $2,000 to Jordan’s reelection campaign in 2019, the same year the ICE deal materialized. “I feel we are doing our part to support the president,” Jordan said in a 2019 interview with the Natchitoches Times, “but mostly, we’re helping our people right here in Winn and the surrounding parishes.
Since most immigrants in detention don’t have lawyers, she explained, they don’t know what their rights are or how to argue their cases before a judge. “There’s a lot of steps in the process,” Eagly said, “and it’s within that process that respondents who have their hearings scheduled over video conferencing exhibit less engagement and less ability to assert their rights.
While Samuel waited, the government was setting up the infrastructure that would let a judge hear the case of immigrants detained in Louisiana from courtrooms across the country.
In late June, more than a year after Samuel first arrived in Tijuana, the immigration judge who heard Samuel’s case granted him full asylum, allowing him to apply for a green card.
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