Exiled from the countries of their birth, railroaded into prisons and detention centers, torn from their children and denied health care because they don?t speak English ? the treatment which immigrant women prisoners experience makes a cruel mockery of the promise of freedom and security which this country pretends to offer. For their capacity to endure, their commitment to fight for their children and families, and their determination to keep their homelands strong in their hearts even while they fight for the right to remain in this country if necessary, we dedicate this issue to all the immigrant women who are incarcerated in the U. S.
Una visita a la prisión no se compara a nada antes vivido. Tomar la mano de una compañera y sentir su fuerza y resistencia es una experiencia unica que solo puede compararse con el deseo de querer ver a estas mujeres libres.
He recopilado algunas historias combinadas que son las voz de muchas mujeres adentro y debe ser inspiración a todas para luchar.
Una historia nos cuenta de una mujer que vino a este país en busqueda de una vida con dignidad bajo condiciones muy duras. Ella vino muy joven, sin su familia, tan solo con el hombre que era su novio en ese entonces. Tambien siendo muy joven tuvo su primer hijo. Ella nos describió como tener su primer hijo fue su salvación del aislamiento que vivia en este país.
Su pareja era un hombre abusivo, y en una relación abusiva el abusador no solo dañará a su pareja si no que también a todo lo que la rodea en este caso siendo su hijo mas pequeño, un golpe brutal le quitó la vida al niño. Llena de confusión ella llevó al niño al hospital sin poder comprender lo que había sucedido.
Ella fue acusada de algo que no hizo y se encontraba sola por que su pareja la había abandonado.
A ella la metieron en prisión pero todo sucedió tan rápido que aunque ella se declaró inocente nadie la escuchó, en medio de toda la confusión, la pena y el dolor ella no pudo darse cuenta de lo que realmente había sucedido ni entender que el abuso de su pareja pudo convertirse en la razón por la cual ella estaba ahora en prisión. Ella tenía un abogado que le dijó que la ayudaría en su apelación pero ya hace algunos años desde la última vez que ella recibió noticias de él.
Su madre ( quien vino después a este país) tiene la custodia de sus otros hijos y cada dos o tres meses recibe una visita de ella.
Este no es un caso aislado. Otra mujer que conocimos perdió a su hijo bajo similares circumstancias y fué puesta en prisión por un crimen que no cometió. En su caso su pareja la amenazó con matar a sus otros hijos si ella hablaba sobre lo sucedido o del abuso en que ella vivía.
Otra mujer nos pudo contar su historia de lucha para mantener sus derechos de madre desde que entró a la prisión. Sus hijos mayores estan en su país de origen pero los mas pequeños estan con padres temporales (Foster parents) y corre el riesgo de no volverlos a ver. Desde que fue separada de sus hijos ella no ha hecho mas que presionar y presionar con abogados, trabajadores sociales e incluso con CCWP para tratar de hallar la forma de comunicarse con ellos y obtener información de sus derechos de madre. Siendo ella indocumentada el riesgo de perder a sus hijos se ha? mayor que el de otras mujeres que no lo son y estan prisión. Recientemente ella se enteró de que NO ha perdido sus derechos como madre, asi que ella siente que toda su lucha valió al saber esto. Luchar por sus derechos siempre sera un sí o si para ella.
Las mujeres en estas historias y tantas otras con las que hablamos nos cuentan acerca del racismo y discriminación que sienten dentro de prisión, por ser Latinas, por hablar Español y por no estar acostumbradas a ser rudas.
Ellas nos cuentan sobre la opresión y la humillación por parte de los guardias de seguridad y mujeres de otras comunidades que han internalizado el racismo de tal manera que lo reproducen adentro.
Pero también nos contaron sobre sus fuerzas y deseos. Nos contaron sobre querer que el tiempo pase y de hacer esto posible en su propia manera, hallando la forma de empoderarse para que nada las haga sentir menos que otras. Cada día es lo que cuenta y cada día esta en sus manos y en las de nadie mas.
Cada historia tiene tras ellas cientos de nombres de mujeres que enfrentan encarcelamiento, deportación o detención. Necesitamos de su apoyo para alcanzar a nuestras compañeras para que asi podamos romper los barrotes que separan una realidad en dos mundos diferentes.
A prison visit is like nothing you?ve lived before. Holding the hand of a compañera inside and feeling her strength and resistance is a unique experience that can only compare to the feeling of wanting to see these women free.
I?ve put together some blended stories that are the voice of many women inside and should give us all inspiration to struggle.
One story tells us about a woman who came to this country looking for a life with dignity under very hard conditions. She came at a very young age, without her family, only with the man that was her boyfriend. At a very young age she also had her first child. She described how having her first child was her salvation from the isolation of living in this country.
Her partner was an abusive man, and in an abusive relationship the abuser will not just harm his partner but everything that is close to her, in this case her youngest child. A brutal assault took the life of her child. Filled with confusion she took her child to the hospital without fully understanding what had happened. She was accused of something she hadn?t done and she was all alone because the partner had abandoned her.
She was put into prison but everything was so sudden that even though she declared herself innocent no one would listen and in the middle of all the confusion the pain and grief, she couldn?t even figure out what exactly had happened or understand that the abuse of her partner could become the reason that she ended up in prison. She had a lawyer who said he would help her with an appeal but it?s been three years since she last heard from him. Her mother (who came after she did to this country), has the custody of her other children and once every two to three months she gets a visit from her.
This is not an isolated case. Another woman we met lost her child under similar circumstances and was put in prison for a crime she didn?t commit. In her case she was threatened by her partner that she would lose her other children if she spoke or told about the abuse.
Another woman was able to share with us her history of struggle to hold on to her parental rights since she has been in prison. Her older kids are in her home country but the youngest ones are now with foster parents, and the risk is that they may not ever see her again. Since she was torn apart from them, she has pushed and pushed with lawyers, social workers, and even CCWP to try and figure out how she can communicate with them and get information about her parental rights. Since she is undocumented her risks of losing her children are even bigger than those of other women prisoners. Recently she found out that she hadn?t lost her parental rights yet, so she feels that all of her struggle was worth knowing this. Fighting for her rights will always be a must for her.
Women in these stories, and so many others we talked to, tell us about the racism, and discrimination they feel inside prison, because of being Latinas, because of speaking Spanish, and because they are not used to being tough. They tell us about the oppression and humiliation from prison guards and from women from other communities who have internalized the racism of this system and reproduced it inside.
But they also told us about their strength and desire. They told us about wanting time to go by and how they make that happen, each one in their own way, figuring out how to empower themselves so nothing will make them feel less than others. Each day is what counts and each day is in their hands and nobody else?s.
Each story has hundreds of women?s names behind it ? women who are facing incarceration, deportation and detention. We need your support to keep on reaching out to our compañeras so we can break through the bars that separate one reality into two different worlds.
Cassie Pierson, Staff Attorney, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (the 96 Act) increased criminal penalties for immigration-related offenses, reorganized the process for removal and deportation, restricted eligibility of immigrants for public benefits and imposed new requirements for sponsors of relatives who wish to immigrate. In addition, the 96 Act amended the definition of ?aggravated felony? to include (partial list) the crimes of rape and sexual abuse of a minor; added offenses related to gambling, bribery, and perjury; and lowered the imprisonment threshold for crimes of theft, violence, racketeering and document fraud from five years to one year. More importantly, the amended definition of an ?aggravated felony? was retroactive and applied to offenses that occurred before the enactment of the 96 Act as well as those offenses that occurred on and after the date of enactment. So, a prisoner who was sentenced to prison for three years for theft (which prior to the 96 Act would not have required that she be deported) found herself subject to deportation under the amended definition of ?aggravated felony.?
In May 2005, new legislation was introduced by Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy which intends to reform U.S. immigration law. If enacted the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005 will allow millions of immigrants who live and work in the U.S. to legalize their status. Some of the proposals include: stricter immigration enforcement including a new electronic employment verification system, a new temporary work visa, an improved family reunification system, and, legal status for most undocumented immigrants who live and work in the U.S. including provisions for those immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Unfortunately, this proposed legislation does not appear to include any changes to the definition of an ?aggravated felony.?
Some women immigrants may be able to remain in the U.S. under provisions of the Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act (BIWPA) which is Title V of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act and was signed into law in October 2000. To qualify for relief under BIWPA, a woman files a petition and shows that she is a person of good moral character. Section 101(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) describes the conduct that will render an immigrant ineligible for consideration as a person of good moral character. However, there are provisions which allow certain conduct to be waived so that the petitioner can still be considered a person of good moral character. For example, if a woman was convicted of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana, and she is the battered spouse of a U.S. citizen, that conviction can be waived, but the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must consent to the waiver. There are no waivers for anyone who has a conviction for any ?aggravated felony? committed on or after November 29, 1990.
Jail and prison officials are required to notify the DHS when an undocumented immigrant is due for release. DHS then has 48 hours to pick up the released prisoner. The person is re-arrested and transported to a detention center where she or he remains until a decision is made regarding the removal/deportation of the person. If DHS fails to pick up the person within the 48-hour time limit, that person is FREE.
For more information contact: Immigrant Legal Resource Center, 1665 Mission St., SF, CA, 415-255-9499, www.ilrc.org; National Immigration Law Center, 405 14th St., Oakland, CA, 510-663-8282, www.nilc.org
Once released from already oppressive and abusive conditions in the prison system, immigrant women are held in U.S. jails to face deportation proceedings and possible torture. I had the opportunity to interview one such woman. She will be referred to in this interview as ?sister? to protect her current status as she continues to fight deportation and thus separation from her family.
Q: Sister, please tell me what happened to you after you completed your prison sentence?
After completing a lengthy prison sentence, I was sent to a county jail in California that is contracted to incarcerate people facing deportation.
Q: Were you able to see your family while you were there?
No, I chose not to have my children visit me at the jail because after 13 years of visiting me and touching me, I would have had to endure the pain of seeing them behind a glass partition and talking to them through a telephone line.
Q: Were you able to call your family on the telephone?
The telephone is available for use most of the time. However, the calls are all collect and very expensive; our families are charged anywhere between thirteen and fifteen dollars for a short local call. The expense of these calls prohibits most of the women from connecting with their children and loved ones by phone.
Q: What was the average day like?
It was not easy to live there; breakfast was delivered at 5:30 a.m., lunch around 10:30 and dinner at 5:00 p.m. You could not keep any food items in your cell, not even a piece of fruit. You were allowed 1-hour daily recreation where you were herded to a covered inside space that had a basketball hoop in it. There was a television, however, the programming was monitored. You could watch the designated programs after lunch from about 11am to 11pm. However, if any woman was accused of the least infraction, television ?privileges? were cut off for everyone. I could see this potentially causing division between us because the television, no matter what the restrictions were, was an escape from the daily routine.
Q: How many women were housed together?
There were about 20 women in each cell area, between 60 and 80 women in that particular jail.
Q: What would you say was the ethnic breakdown of the women being held?
In that place about 65% of the women were of Asian decent, 30% from Spanish speaking countries, (primarily Mexico) and 5% were from various other countries.
Q: Were you able to wear your own clothes?
Oh no, we were issued everything, a top, pants and a sweatshirt. We even had to wear the jail issued underwear. This was most difficult for me, as I didn?t understand why women were not allowed to keep/wear our own underwear. The panties/bras issued were not brand new; others had worn them. You had to wear those items for 2 days and then they were washed. You had to sleep in them also.
Q: Were you able to purchase hygiene items?
Upon arrival you were given 1 towel, 1 toothbrush, a sample tube of toothpaste, a comb and a ?hotel sized? bar of soap. If you had money on your account, you could purchase a limited selection of hygiene items from the commissary at exorbitant prices. A bar of soap would cost $2.00, as would a sample size container of lotion. If you purchased a bottle of shampoo on the commissary, you would have to wait 2 weeks to buy hair conditioner, as those 2 items weren?t sold at the same time.
Q: What do you think was the worst part of being in that situation?
I really have to say that the thing I disliked most was that you could not receive any medication unless you paid for it; they sell Tylenol for 50 cents each. If you needed to see a doctor, it would cost you $3.00; if you were indigent (not having any money) they would see you but if your family sent any money for you to purchase needed hygiene items, the jail would first take out any amount that was charged for medicine or doctor visits. Also, they would not accept medication that came in with you from the prison that released you. I really felt this practice was most cruel because there were women who needed medication for chronic illnesses that could not afford to purchase it.
Another thing that was really hard for me to accept was that we were given absolutely no real help in fighting our cases. If you did not have support on the outside, you basically are in a hopeless situation. The jail issues a list of attorneys who represent people with immigration problems that is 15 years old and of no real help. The contact information for many of the attorneys on that list is not valid or they cannot help you. This is most distressing for immigrant women who have no other support.
Q: Are there any last words you would like to share?
I appreciate this opportunity to express what is happening to women who are supposed to be free. Please keep us in your prayers and write your politicians about our condition. This treatment of women has to change. Thank you very much.
Thank you so much for taking this time to educate our readers about the plight of women facing deportation.