In a rare occurrence over the weekend, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge ordered federal agents to intercept a Guatemalan mother and her 12-year-old daughter who were deported Friday.
In July of last year, Ana and her daughter, whose last name has been withheld, presented themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border in a plea for asylum.
Since then they have held at Berks County Residential Center, a family detainment facility for undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania.
For unclear reasons, Ana and her daughter were pulled from their room at 3 a.m. Friday morning and put on a one-way series of flights back to Guatemala. The courts issued an emergency request to block to deportation and intercept the family, but the plane was already airborne.
Returning deportees is rare, but sometimes happens after a bureaucratic mistake. That’s the case for Ana, argues Chief Judge Theodore A. McKee of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
After Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did not inform the courts of the deportation, McKee issued an order saying that “If the government is unable to intercept Petitioners at the airport, they must locate Petitioners in Guatemala and return them to the United States as quickly as possible.”
The reason is that Ana and her daughter were victims of horrific domestic violence in Guatemala, Ana’s attorney Bridget Cambria said, and returning to their home country puts both of their lives in danger.
Cambria and others suspect that the sudden deportation was brought on by two incidents.
Life hasn’t been easy for Ana and her daughter as they’ve waited for the due process of asylum.
Earlier this year, Ana and half a dozen other detainees witnessed the “institutional sexual assault” of a 19-year-old Honduran woman by a 40-year-old guard at the detention center. In the aftermath, Cambria says that Ana did not receive any psychological counselling from the center. Rather, the witnesses were all “intimidated into not talking” about the incident.
Then, last week, Ana was among a group of about a dozen women who protested the “voluntary work program” at the center.
The Berks County Residential Center does not hire contractors to clean and maintain the detainment facilities. Instead, detainees like Ana are paid as little as a dollar a day to perform all of the necessary cleaning, cooking, and maintenance for all building facilities. The only ones they don’t maintain are the actual ICE offices where files and other sensitive materials are kept, according to Cambria.
The detained women also considered their strike “a statement against prolonged detention.”
“There’s a time when detention becomes unreasonable,” Cambria said. “Whatever your reasons are, there comes a time when a child should just not be in jail anymore and it’s up to us as a community to figure out when it becomes unreasonable.”
Detainees have no way of communicating with the outside world, so they have found ways to send a message within the facility. The problem is that long-term detentions — in many cases up to 14 months — have become commonplace, and only select parties are permitted to observe what happens within the facilities, let alone speak with the detainees. The press is generally forbidden.
As of Friday, ICE had not commented on the reason for the sudden deportation, but said they were
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for retrieving Ana and her daughter from Guatemala. Because the family returned with no supervision, it has made it difficult to track them down. Ana’s attorney says the two deportees have been located but the government hasn’t had the resources to bring her back safely yet.