Tuesday Morning: INS
I turned in my appointment letter just before 8:00am on the 6th floor.
I was asked to fill out a sheet of paper about me and my parents.
A clerk called me up to the desk and asked me “Do you have your passport?”
I told her that I left it at my parents’ house. Then she asked an INS officer next to her if it was alright that I did not have it with me. He then nodded his head signaling that it was okay.
I turned in the sheet and waited to be called upon. About 11:00am, I was called by an adjudicating officer. My attorney accompanied me, and we both followed the INS officer. The officer told me to remain standing, and to raise my right hand to be sworn in.
As far as I can remember, the events that follow remain vivid in my memory:
INS Officer: Got a job?
Me: I am self-employed. I sell and repair computers from a small office.
INS Officer: What is the address?
Me: I gave him the complete address. He was inputting all this information in the computer, although he already had some info pulled up on me with respect to my Late Amnesty application.
INS Officer: It appears that you filed an I-687? Do you remember what that is?
Me: I do not remember. What is it? It has been a long time (since 1990)? He then started checking the INS website, then printed a sheet and read it out aloud. It was something to do with legalization.
INS Officer: Do you remember what the status of this application is? It appears that this has been sitting for a long time and no decision has been made. It looks like the file was transferred to Missouri Service Center. When did you file? Did you move?
Me: In 1990. I was living with my family in California. I filed the application. I was attending Cal State. When I finished, I moved back to LA in late 1995.
INS Officer: Did you receive any decision from INS?
Me: No they kept renewing my EAD for awhile while the case was under litigation, and then they stopped.
The INS officer left the room for a while, and then returned.
INS Officer: You are here regarding registration and any information is voluntary………..
After he asked the questions listed on the questionnaire, he gave the sheets for me to initial and sign. I reviewed them with my attorney, made minor adjustments, initialed the form and signed it. He had in his possession my CDL, EAD, and I-94.
He left the room again for about a few minutes.
He came back and stated that I would be detained, but that the good news was that I would have a chance to see a judge. He stated that he would request the file from Missouri and then I would get my green card. He explained that I did the right thing by coming in today. The INS officers are just following the orders from Washington unlike what is mentioned in the LA Times. My attorney asked the officer if I could be released under my own recognizance. The officer indicated that this was not possible. He asked me to wait outside until I was called in.
My attorney and I waited outside until they called me at 12:40pm.
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- Sgt. Danny Lightfoot, Los Angeles, California
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Detention Process: Tuesday Afternoon
While I was still on the 6th floor, they asked us to make one line. There were about nine of us being detained. The line started with one female inspector and finished with a male inspector. We proceeded to go into a conference room. We all sat in the same row and they had a pile of files and placed each one with the corresponding person.
The male inspector indicated that the reason we are taken into custody was because we have some immigration violations. He indicated that the correct procedure was to apply for an immigrant visa through an American Embassy or Consulate. The female inspector tried to comfort us indicating that everything was going to be okay. In my group, there were eight Iranians and an Arabian man. The male inspector then started questioning us starting from the first person in the row. The first Iranian person was upset and irate and demanded a refund for his EAD application fee because it was not accepted by the INS. Most of the group in my row had entered with a valid visa but overstayed. Most of the other men who were detained had pending I-485 applications and work permits issued through Laguna Niguel. One person to the left of me had entered without inspection. He told the inspector that he paid a smuggler $500 to come from Mexico.
When we were all finished, they asked us to stand up and proceeded to put us on handcuffs. They handcuffed two people together using the right hand of one and the left hand of the other. I was sandwiched between two other people because there were nine of us.
The female inspector guided us to walk through hallways in the back offices from one room to the other. Since both my left and right hands were handcuffed to two different people, I was at the mercy of the guy who was tied up to my right hand as he was the foreman. He preceded walking first, I followed, and the one handcuffed to my left hand struggled to keep up. All three of us had to walk cautiously because of the little space we had.
We went out the back and headed for the elevator. The female inspector tried to locate an empty elevator car. After two unsuccessful attempts, she was able to intercept one car with two females. She asked the females to vacate the elevator as she was conducting official federal business. Both females vacated the elevator. However, the first female passenger going out gave the female inspector a very weird look. Then we all entered the elevator and went down to the basement, and during the journey down, both INS inspectors exchanged thoughts and fun comments about the female passengers who gave them the looks.
When the elevator car reached the bottom floor, we got out and followed the female inspector. We made one line and entered through double-glass doors. We walked toward the south of the building. To the left of our line, there were some females of Asian and Latin origin jailed inside two separate tanks. To the right of our line, there were some INS staff sitting in desks that were attached to each other to make a square shape. Along them, there were chairs used to interview people.
We continued walking toward the east side of the building. There were some shelves with lots of paper bags and tags attached to them. This clearly was the area where we left our stuff. We kept walking until we were ordered to stop. Some of the detention officers asked the two investigators to stop bringing more bodies because they were running out of handcuffs, but the investigator replied laughing and said that he would bring double next time if the officers kept whining. The inspector then took our cuffs off and asked us to form one line. Each applicant took turns having his picture taken. I think that I could hear my heart beating so loud at 200 beats per minutes. When I got to my turn, I tried to smile in front of the camera to give a good impression. They all gave us the film to hold and asked us to remain seated on the chairs along the wall. Then they called on us one by one to have us fingerprinted using a computer inkless pad. While I was sitting and holding my film, the gentleman who had been handcuffed to my right hand was sitting to my right. He clearly looked like that he did not belong there. Well-dressed, well-behaved, with great manners, he spoke like a native English speaker. It looked like he was in the middle of a multi-million dollar deal when the feds snatched him from his desk suddenly. He looked at me, so I replied with a smile and he smiled back. I asked him “Kodak moment?” He replied back “Yep. This is definitely a Kodak moment!” He was then called to be fingerprinted. The man to the left of me asked “what are you in for?” I replied “being born at the wrong place at the wrong time.” I asked him then “how was it coming through the borders using so called coyotes?” He said he walked right in under their eyes and ears with little or no trouble. He felt he lost $500.00 because the smuggler had abandoned him.
After we were all tagged, we were asked to empty our pockets, take off our belts and shoelaces. An officer wearing plastic gloves had searched us thoroughly top to bottom. We were allowed to keep money/coins, our paper work, jewelry, and cell phones without the batteries. Of course, we were not allowed to keep pens, knives, anything that could be used as a weapon. They gave us a paper bag and asked us to put in there everything else we were not allowed to keep, and they tagged each bag and gave us the corresponding number. They asked us to put our last name on the tag itself, and I put my first initial also just in case someone else had the same last name being detained in this part of the hemisphere.
After we were all processed we were escorted back through the square shaped desks and led straight to the tank. This was to the west side of the building which had holding tanks. The security guards opened tank number six for us and we went in, and after the door slammed, the tough reality started kicking in. I am officially in jail, and this was no joke.
The first two hours were the hardest for me because I did not expect something like that to happen to me considering that I was a college grad. I barely dragged myself to the bench and collapsed there when reality started sinking in. I tried to regroup and started orienting myself in the cell. Time started going slow. Very slow. My life flashed before my eyes as I started remembering what went wrong from my early childhood up till now. I remembered when the plane landed, when INS stamped my passport, and when I joined my dad in California back in the 80’s. I remembered my sick dying grandparents back home and a country I could barely recall when I left about 14 years ago. I started looking around the room. It had three solid walls and one glass wall where the door was. They had a poster with some rules and regulations in English and Spanish. They also had a list of embassies and consulates telephone numbers. Only the El Salvador consulate had a toll free phone number with a nice separate colored sticker.
At the back of the cell, there were two toilets separated by metal panels, and on top of each toilet, there was a sink with a cold water faucet. There were no soaps or toilet papers. There were lots of rolls of loose toilet paper on the floor, and later I found out the detainees had used them as mattresses. Also, there was a big trash bin full of food from the last meal. I looked at my group and most of them had some kind of fear or shock on their faces. They did not want to cry because they would look bad in front of the others considering they were mostly in their late forties. I did not cry myself even though I was the youngest in my group. One of my friends couldn’t handle it and said “this is ridiculous. This is like a scene from Schindler’s List. I feel like I am living my old life again.” “Welcome to the club!” I replied.
While inside the tank, I formed a special friendship with my shoes. They were really useful as a pillow. I tried to lie down and close my eyes to go to sleep considering that I was at the INS on Monday and back at 5am Tuesday. However, I could not go to sleep. Something inside kept me breathing faster and raised my blood pressure, a fact I came to regret much later. I should have slept as much as I could and whenever I had the chance.
All of a sudden, the door opened and we were ordered to make one line. It was after 3pm and we were given our lunches. One of the detention officers went inside to observe order and he noticed the loose rolls of toilet paper. He said that if we used the toilet paper like that again, we would not get any more “to wipe out our asses.” I opened my lunch meal only to throw it back in the trash; another thing I came to regret. Right after lunch, the door opened again, and the security guards started selling phone cards in $5 and $10 denominations. There were two phones there in the cell, and only collect calls and these calling cards could be used.
I did not want to call my attorney or my family because I did not want to add to their anxiety about me.
I had enough talking to myself, so I tried squeezing my head between my legs and started breathing some warm air into my chilling hands, and closed my eyes to try to imagine my appointment with the unknown.
Tuesday Night: Alhambra Jail
As the early evening approached, it was apparent to me that I would have to spend the night there, “but where?” I asked. INS stuffed the cell with more bodies as the evening started. The more humans who were in the room, the warmer it got, and the less oxygen was available. I started stripping the upper part of my body, but I could still feel the stuffy air. People started complaining angrily, and one started knocking on the door and glass panels saying “It is too hot here! We cannot breathe!” Moments later, a detention officer came in and called some of us, and I was one of the 48 people who were called. We were asked to form two lines, and they handcuffed us to each other. Unluckily, I was handcuffed with a friend who works as a boxer and as a fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament, and from his weight, body-build, and muscle shape; I decided not to piss him off. We were instructed to follow the officer outside the building to a secure area where some green vans were ready to load us. The officer opened the door from the back and asked us to slide in. I was one of the first to sit right behind the metal panel, yet I could see the detention officer as he drove. My stocky friend sat right next to me handcuffed to my right hand. We sat into two rows right across from each other. Some put on their seatbelts. Others did not bother. Someone stated that if the van rolled over, we would certainly die, so we were better off without the seatbelts. The detention officer moved the metal panel to my left side, so that we would have more room. He did not secure it, so the panel kept moving back and forth as he hauled us away. It was about 6:30pm and the traffic was very bad, and streets were crowded. He had loud music on while driving (I think it was Power 95.1). He gave it full throttle, and then slammed on the brake when it was time to stop. The stupid movable metal panel kept bumping into me every time he sped up or stopped. The group started making jokes and fun comments; one looked at the camera in the back of the van and started making weird facial expressions. The officer could clearly see him while he was driving, and I think he was smiling while singing along. My group started popping up celebrity names, and the gentleman was doing his best to imitate each persons’ characteristics. The van entered the San Bernardino Freeway (10 east) and drove into the carpool lane. After four minutes, the van suddenly stopped and the guard started saying foul language; I think there was an irresponsible driver who tried to cut in front of him illegally in the carpool lane. During that sudden stop, my Ultimate-Fighter friend had pushed me to the movable metal panel, and I was squashed between two heavy objects. As I remembered from my physics class, the kinetic energy has been transformed to potential energy; it was observed but not lost. You could tell from my red face when I was gasping for air. I started waking up from a nightmare to find out that my group was reciting religious rituals for me, so they stated that my end is near, and the undertaker was handcuffed to my right hand and would deliver me personally to my Maker. I started repeating the rituals with my friends, but he interrupted me smiling and told me that everything was okay, and I did not have to fear anything. He will let me live, so I put my uncuffed left hand on his back and started padding him. I actually wanted to keep him at bay in case there was another sudden stop. I thanked God that day so many times more than what I’ve thanked him in past 20 years combined.
As we took surface streets, I recalled a familiar group of buildings; it was Cal State, Los Angeles, my Alma Mater. I just hoped none of my professors would see me in this shape (handcuffed) because it might look bad when I request recommendation letters from them which I urgently need to continue my education. When we stopped, it was a familiar place called Alhambra Police department. A police officer gave me a traffic ticket there which I fought in court but lost, and the total damages were $329.00 plus traffic school; what a small world! The van then stopped in the booking area and we were ordered out of the van into the building where we made two lines. They unhandcuffed all of us except two; one of them had his cuffs and no key would work, and the INS detention officer stated that he tried both keys (the electronic and the manual one) and he would have to break the key to open the lock. We were put into individual cells. They told us that we would go to cells with phones and TV and showers.
They placed us then in separate cells to be processed. I went with a group of five people into a cell in the middle of the hallway. The cell had two benches across from each other, a toilet, some toilet paper, and a sink. The cell also had an intercom system in case we needed to alert the guards. It was clearly better than the INS detention facility. Alhambra jail was almost empty, and only one cell across from us was occupied with what appeared to be two Latin teenagers, and they kept looking at my group as if we were new recruits. We took turns using the toilet and sat down on the benches. It was hard at first because we did not know what to do and how we would be treated by a contracted police department in a criminal jail. I was lucky enough to have the jolly person with the different facial expressions in my group. Suddenly, the person sitting right in front me had something in his hand that immediately caught my eyes; an extra jacket! It was about 7:30pm and I was caught without a jacket. The cold air started seeping through my body and the short hair in my head. I tried to entice my colleague with my gracious offers to rent, sell, or loan me his extra jacket, but my request went unanswered through the cold ether. He had a sweatshirt and a jacket on, and also he had an extra jacket in his hand. His shoes were a little different, the kind of slip-on one without shoe laces, so he did not walk funny like most of us. The dude was will prepared. I offered to be his indentured servant for the next two years in exchange for borrowing his jacket for the night, but he refused; it was absurd how I was spoiled in the outside life as I used to give my jackets away. We spent about two hours in the temporary cell, and one of the guards came and took three persons from our group including the guy with extra jacket unfortunately. After another thirty minutes, another guard brought us some so-called food and some weird dark-colored drink; I think it was some kind of coffee. This time I could not afford to throw anything away because I was dead hungry and cold, so I drank the dark colored warm solution in one jug, and then finished the micro-waved food like a homeless person from downtown banana republic. My friend who remained with me in the cell felt sorry for me and gave me part of his food; he wouldn’t part though with the warm dark-colored solution. After we finished the food, the guard came and ordered us to head for the processing area. About four of us sat down on the bench, and to my right was the ultimate championship fighter, and to the left of was my friend who shared his food with me. The guards started socializing with the all muscle fighter about how he defeated Ken Shamrock. They offered him more meals, but he only ate one. I asked nicely for the other meal, and before I knew it, it was sitting in my lap. The guards were nice enough to let me keep it until after processing was done. We were all ordered to take off our shoes and place them on the counter top, and were also asked to empty down our pockets, and take off our rings and jewelry.
They asked each of us about our first and last names. The friend on my right had somewhat Caucasian characteristics, so they thought that he was from Russia. When he mentioned that his first name was pronounced like “Psycho”, the guards tried to hide their smiles while inspecting our personal belongings. He leaned toward me and asked me to translate for him about what the guards wanted. I closed my eyes and traveled a long journey to the past to try to remember some vocabulary about a language I did not speak for 14 years. I tried with some difficulty and help from my friend to the far right to let him know that he need to spread his hands and legs to be searched.
After we were all processed, we were ordered to go to the end of the hallway and pick a bed sheet and a small towel on the way to spend the night in the Five Star Suites. They told us that the heaviest person must sleep in the bottom bunk bed, so naturally I ended up on the top bunk bed. I managed to eat my extra precious meal that was donated to me by my friend “Mr. Muscle” away from the preying eyes of the other inmates. Before we went to bed, we tried to orient ourselves with the new Hyatt. There was a central hall with one bench and six stools to sit on, one TV, and an open shower with not-so-warm water. My group asked if I wanted to take a shower; however, I expressed my dismay and stated that I would rather stink considering that I was almost ripe, and the INS may release me faster. Shows like Dharma and Greg started to sound funny again, but when we asked the guard to change the channel, he replied with some foul language. Moments later, he changed it to one of the local news channels, and I thought I hadn’t seen Ann Martin for years. No news was mentioned about us because maybe we were bad publicity, or I guess nobody gave a damn about us.
The phone there could only be used for placing collect calls, so I called my family collect and informed them that everything was okay; however, the INS still had not decided my fate. I asked them to keep the faith and told them that I would be in touch later; I did not want to stay long since it was a collect call with long distance charges, beside it was adding more to my agony and pain and I needed to pull myself together for another day of frustration. My body was winding down. I headed then to my top bunk bed to realize that my problems are just about to get started. I suddenly realized that I did not have a blanket, and all I had was the sheet that goes on top of the plastic so-called mattress. I headed back to the door and pushed the bottom button to speak on the intercom and stated politely that I did not get a blanket, and a nice female voice replied that the sheet was the blanket! So I headed back to the cell and stopped by the cell of my friend with the funny faces and asked him if I can borrow his leather jacket since he was using it as a pillow. He said the jacket was bad luck because everybody who used it was deported, so I went back to my cell. I waited until my heavy friend fell to sleep in the bottom bed and started using the toilet in the dark to keep my privacy, but when I flushed it, it made a loud sound that startled the sleeping giant. He thought that he was being hauled back home, so I offered my apologies, and he helped me climb up to the top bunk. Then I started feeling a little cold breeze which was the AC vent system which was about two feet on top of me, and since I had no jacket on a cold night, I had to improvise. I wrapped the small towel around my belly and covered myself with the sheet and fell into sleep without a pillow since they took my shoes away. After sleeping for two hours in the cold night, my stocky friend down below started snoring out loud, and it was a long intermittent noise in 10 second increments. I could not sleep, so I climbed down slowly so as not to wake him up and got some of the toilet paper and rolled it to make small ear plugs out of it. I stuffed one plug in my left ear and one in my right ear and climbed back to my bed quietly, so that I would not wake up my heavy-weight snoring friend. I covered myself again with the thin sheet and the small towel over my belly, and luckily I could hear his snoring as far away as it was in the other room, yet I still could not sleep. I then tried to trick myself by remembering what would happen to me if I got deported including leaving my loved ones, my thriving business, and the wonderful life style I am used to. Sure enough, my heart beats started becoming louder, my heart started pumping more blood, and I started breathing a lot faster.
Next thing I knew, it was about 4:00am on Wednesday morning when they woke us up through a loud ordering voice through the intercom followed by a loud noise which appeared to be the electric locking mechanism for each cell door. Later, we learned that it was used to open the cell doors just in case we accidentally locked ourselves up. I also noticed that some people were sleeping on the floor because they ran out of plastic mattresses and bunk beds. We then were ordered to form one line and they gave each of us a warm meal. Some people threw their meals in the trash hoping for a better treatment when they got back to the INS. However, I was not going to repeat the same mistake twice, so I made sure I ate all of whatever their generosity had to offer. After finishing up my breakfast meal, the clock was ticking about 4:30am, and I did not know whether I should go back to sleep or wait for the detention officers to haul me back to the INS for processing. However, since many of my documented friends did not bother eating and went back to sleep, I went back to bed to catch some zzz. Around 6:30am, the guards woke us up again because the feds came to pick us up and take us back to the INS station. We were ordered to form groups of two, and they handcuffed me again to another gentleman I never met from another cell. One fellow in the beginning of the line kept reminding the INS detention officer that he had a second envelope with all of his British and American IDs, and he kept nagging the INS officer in somewhat of a harsh tone to get it for him. However, it appeared that the INS officer was having an early morning headache, so he told him to cool it, or he may suffer legal retribution. The Alhambra Jail guards had told the INS officers that the supervisor likes to see only four inmates being searched at one time in the hallway. The others must be kept in a separate room until their turn to be searched. The INS officers at first started murmuring because they did not want to comply, and one was complaining to the others that local and state governments were infringing more and more on federal jurisdiction.
At any rate, we were all searched, given back our belongings, and processed out again to head back to the INS detention facility downtown. We proceeded out of the Alhambra jail building, waited for the INS officer to open up the rear gate of the van, and then we all got in inside. The fellow next to me was either too clumsy or too polite because he asked the INS officer “can I put on the seatbelt?”, and the officer who was having a bad morning replied “It’s a free country! What do you think?” Then he went on rambling “ Y’all immigrants, come here, telling us what do, dressed-up, with the nice suits and leather jackets!” I have to admit that most of these people who showed up for registration were well-dressed, well-behaved, well-groomed, and the majority of them had leather jackets (except me!) However, I do not know why they all dressed up that way. Were they all from the same family? From the same town? Or maybe they wanted to make a good impression with INS district director? I don’t know. However, I could see my Kodak-moment friend shaking his head in disbelief.
One of the Sudanese inmates tried to defuse the tense situation, so he asked the guard to stop on the way and smoke one cigarette for him, and the officer replied nicely that he would sure think about him when he smokes it. On our way back to the INS detention facility, I started feeling a slight chill. It was early morning and, of course, I was caught without a jacket. I had some nice quiet discussion between me and myself. “What do expect you UD?” I asked myself. “You are lucky enough they did not deport you right away due to your stupidity, and lack of planning. Do expect the INS with give an IQ test to everybody who is coming to comply with special registration? Do you want them to separate people into two herds? One with the high IQ scores who had jackets and bundled up, and dumb people like you who thought they were going to Disneyland? You know better than that! The agency is suffering from a severe budget crisis, personnel, and lack of resources, yet you want to add to their burden by giving out IQ tests for people who are coming in to register?” And then I went on babbling to myself “Before you retained your attorney, he had the information on his website for two month! For about two months, he kept warning people about the new INS requirements, yet you never bothered to go his website not even once for the past two months. You always go cnn.com, yahoo.com, and all your favorite bookmarked dot coms, but you never bothered to go to his dot com and waited until the last minute! And look what happened. ‘I did not know about it.’ Well, Duh!” I had enough talking to myself, so I tried squeezing my head between my legs and started breathing some warm air into my chilled hands, and closed my eyed to try to imagine my appointment with the unknown.
Wednesday: An Endless Journey
Our INS van was headed back to the Detention Facility in downtown LA followed by another one. I think there were about 50 of us who spent the night in Alhambra jail building. Passing by some familiar places, it took about an hour for the van to do the morning drive commute back to work. The automatic secure gate opened in the basement of the Federal building, and then the van suddenly stopped and the gate opened. We were ordered to form a line and head back inside the building. Everyone tried to avoid direct eye contact with the guard who was having a bad day. We walked a couple stairs and soon were inside the hallway. I was happy for once to go inside the warm building. Two INS detention officers opened tank number three which was the first one in the basement facing north. I was cold and half asleep when my partner and I were ordered to face the officer to be unhand cuffed. However, in clumsy way I had to turn 360 degrees to face the officer and started drifting which had caused some inconvenience to my handcuffed partner by doing unavoidable chain reaction. This prompted an immediate laugh by the female detention officer, so I apologized politely by stating that I had a rough night, and right after that she asked in a questioned tone “Baklava?” “Close but no cigar” I replied, and then I stated that with all due respect, that this was a food not a country. However, she did not give up and guessed about four different places that didn’t yield any good results. Finally, I said “it’s in my file. You wanna go locate it!!” However, she silently left the cell and locked the door with no definite answer.
Soon after that, I found the closest empty bench and dropped myself on it. I tried to close my eyes and catch some sleep with no luck; I was very nervous. If something is going to happen, it is going to happen today. BUT…What if they do not decide my fate today? What if my bail amount is too high? What if I am not ineligible for bond? What if they lose my file? What if my family does not have the bond? What if? what if? What if? Question after question started zooming in my head. Clearly I was not going to get any sleep. I had made plans to be in custody for about two days, not two months. At that time, I was going crazy if I hadn’t shaken my head so violently. I started moving around the room in circles and headed for the sink to drink some tap water and headed back to sit on the bench, but one of the people leaned toward me and said “are you crazy?” “I am going to be!” I replied. He then said “why did you drink from that water?” However, I did not care much about it because I may have other problems on my hands.
Time went slowly that day. I could see the square-shaped desks with just two people buzzing around, and one of the people said they normally do not come until 10:00am and stay until about 10:00pm because of the massive amount of people they are processing. That meant I need to cool it until about 10:00am, and since there was nothing else to do, I headed back to the bench to play the waiting game. I choose a place to sit down where I could see familiar faces, and soon I found a fellow that I could identify with because he came here on a B-2 visa when he was about eight years old, and we were both born in the same village. The fact of the matter, back home we lived about 15 minutes apart, and we did not meet or know each other; however, we had to cross land and oceans to meet inside a jailhouse downtown LA. We both suffered severely when we were trying to speak in our native language. He indicated that just came with his family when he was eight years old and could comprehend what a “green card” was back then, and that his family procrastinated doing any paperwork for him, and he didn’t really bother with much since he was under the legal age and did not need it. He said he had just barely turned 18. He was exactly in the same shoes I am in: came young, did not know any better, and was under the mercy of his family. Tell that to judge though, and clearly he will have no mercy on you for breaking the law. So we socialized together for some time when I concluded that the poor boy was just a product of bad priorities. He was your typical American teenager; raised in Orange County, went to high school there, was working part-time, and had a girlfriend, yet he was undocumented. I was under the impression that he wanted to wait until he turned eighteen to become of legal age to take care of this paperwork, but he waited too long in my opinion. His case was exactly like mine except that we were a decade apart, and he was also excited with the attorney he had and felt quite confident that he was in good hands. Now, I am not well versed with immigration laws, and if I were, I wouldn’t be here. However, I really felt sorry for that kid because his case had no merit, and his so-called attorney was spinning his wheels. The gentleman said “my attorney said that no matter what happens, he will find a way to keep me here.” Well what if there is no way? Maybe the attorney wanted to experiment with the poor gentleman before concluding that there was no way, or maybe he gave him the impression that he had a direct contact line with the United States Senate. I don’t know, but I just felt that I had moral obligation to inform him to proceed with a little caution; however, he did not like to talk more about the subject, so he left the bench and asked to be excused. He did though let me borrow his “SF49” red jacket for a while.
I was very happy with my prize for a time, so I started to walk the walk and talk the talk, but my seat was gone, so I lay down next to my noisy snoring partner. Clearly he was in no mood to talk, but I was, so eventually I did get him to talk though I wish I hadn’t! All the annoying questions I tried to get out my head started to haunt me back again. What if? What if? What if? The same questions were asked in no particular order. I tried to comfort my friend and told to him relax and take it easy; it was all routine. In actuality, I had more anxiety attacks then him because I was about to have a nervous breakdown, but with a miracle, I was able to get a grip on myself and stay put. The encouragement I was giving out to him was indirectly implied to me, and I made sure he did not notice of anything different. I started feeling hot after this heated discussion, so I gave back the jacket to its rightful owner with a “thank you” note.
The door open slowly all of a sudden and we were ordered to make one line again; it was breakfast time. I have to give credit when credit is due, and the chief there really know how to cook eggs. Yum, yum because this was no where near the micro-waved food we ate at Alhambra jail. INS also always served one juice package from Costco which was Kirkland brand, and they also served an orange with every meal. I overheard from some people that they did not want to eat the orange to reduce their chances of using the toilet. It was really bad there in their opinion. You could see some of the people urinate standing up and then they might spell or wash their hands with cold water and no soap, so the infected liquid might seep through the floors which in turn will wet somebody’s shoes and spread all over the cell. This was clearly a health hazard, yet people did not care; they still ate with dirty hands and slept on dirty floors. INS did not discriminate with their detention process because they were arresting any people who violated immigration laws. I could see some kids probably in their 16s or 17s, and there was a mixed breed of nationalities, races, and religions. It was a scene like the mini United Nations because you could here many different languages dialects. You could see some from Iran spoke Farsi and Hebrew, while others that spoke Farsi and Armenian, and another group spoke Farsi and Assyrian. They all came from an area so rich in culture that dated back to the biblical times. All these people no matter what their differences may be had one thing in common; they all expressed their dismay and dissatisfaction with the INS. One particular group makes you wonder if history is repeating itself. They escaped persecutions in Europe in the mid-forties and the Revolution in Iran back in 70s, yet they were still detained by INS because they had some violation in immigration laws in their past. It was a scene like an old chapter from a history book. Some of them did not bother eating for a while; a fact did not catch INS attention until way later when they started separating us into two lines when future meals were to be served. One line was formed for kosher meals to be served, and the other line was for regular meals.
Some people even though they may have lived a rough life, they were handled by arms of mercy while in detention with INS. My friend, the Ultimate Championship fighter, was one of them. The INS staff had a small slip that contained the arrestee’s name, A number, the photo, and some personal data. Since the vast majority of the arrestees were of Persian origin, many last names begin with the word “kh”, and to pronounce that word for a native English speaker was unbearable. I felt that some INS staff had a dry mouth after trying to pronounce that word with little luck, and most of them felt thirsty after a while. It was like you needed extra bottled water for every ten times you pronounced that word. The prison guards in Lancaster jail though had a kick trying to pronounce that word as I will explain later. Anyway, I understood why INS staff had some troubles with the names, and that is why they found out it was a lot easier to place the half-page sheet against the glass, and one of the native speakers who could pronounce the name a little better volunteered to call on that person. I think Mr. Muscle was one of the first batches to be called from our cell, and that was the last. I saw from him for a while. While I was enjoying my grilled egg without the ham, I heard that someone trying with difficulty to pronounce a familiar name; it was mine!
I dropped the plastic spoon suddenly on the floor and entrusted whatever was left of my breakfast with a friend and left a warning label on it “Finish this, and you lose your jacket!” I then proceeded with the guard to the square-shape cubicles and was ordered to have a seat in front of the investigator, and back then I was very nervous because I was heading toward a new frontier. I could hear my heart beating, yet I could not locate it in my body; it think it was all over the place. Trying to defuse the situation “am I in trouble?” I asked, and he replied politely “yes!”
Investigator: What is your name? Me: (I gave him my complete name.) Investigator: What languages do you speak? Me: I speak English and my native language. Investigator: Are you married? Me: I have not found Ms. Right. Investigator: Neither have I. What is your address? Me: (I gave him my address. He then gave me four sheets to sign. They were the classic fingerprint sheet. It appears that I will be fingerprinted for my right and left hand two times.) Investigator: What is the address of you father? Me: (I gave him the address.) Investigator: What is the address of your mother? Me: (I gave him the address.) Investigator: When was the last time you entered the US? Me: Back in 1990. Investigator: Where did you get your visa? Me: (I gave him the location.) Investigator: Have you ever applied for any immigration benefit? Me: Yes. (I gave him the application method and qualifications.) Investigator: Did you get any decision from INS? Me: I do not think so. It is probably in the basement at Laguna Niguel, and they may issue a request for evidence. I do not know. Investigator: I still see it “sitting.” Me: When I got a receipt notice from the INS, it stated that it was taking the INS up to 825 days. I used to call the service center and get this information, but now I have found out a way to check the case status on the internet from my attorney’s website. It’s better because I can save on long distance charges, but I still get the same answer. Investigator: You will get an ‘A’ number, and I do not know if it will be the same one you have. One second. (He went to get a sheet from the printer). Me: Can you please ask the computer nicely to give me a different A number? Investigator: Why? Me: This number is cursed. I hate it! It has been lingering with me for the past ten years without any luck. There is no juice in it. It’s just full of fat. Investigator: All A numbers are treated the same, matter of fact, the ones that start with 9 are processed faster. Me: Yeah right! He then came back from the printer with one sheet and gave to me. Investigator: Looks like it is your lucky day. You got the same number! Me: Oh, man. I’m doomed. Well, I guess I will see you next year. He gave me then the sheet to read and sign, and they way I understood it from the legal mumbo jumbo, they caught me with my pants down. I was found to have violated immigration laws. I tried to explain to the Investigator that six months was not enough to live in the land of milk and honey, but I got the feeling it was not time to rationalize, instead I should save my efforts and tell that to the judge. On the back of the sheet, there were three boxes to check: one if you would like a hearing before a judge, one if you fear going back to your country and still wanted a hearing, and the last one if you waive your rights and want to depart voluntarily. From a John Q. Consumer point a view, I knew that the last choice was a no-no. Me: I know you cannot give legal advice, but what is the difference between the top two? Investigator: One allows you to see the judge and one if you have some fears about going back to your country. Me: If I choose both, will that increase my chances to stay here? Investigator: You can only choose one. Me: Alright, I will choose the top one. He gave me a thumb up. I checked the top part wishing God to have mercy on me and put my John Hancock with the date. He then took me to a long table where the undocumented are fingerprinted. I surrendered my hands to let him fingerprint me and gave him the captain’s seat. After a short time, he pointed to where the soap was, so I soaked my black dirty hands and used the toilet paper there to remove as much ink as I could. I did that again, and again, and again because there was no running water there. I then went back to the hot seat where he was finishing up my file, and he informed me that they would let me know of the outcome. So I called my other friend to escort me back to the slammer.
After I went back to my cell, I was cheered with a hero’s welcome. However, I was in no mood to talk. Throughout my ordeal, I still had hope, even a one-in-a-million chance, that they would not put me into proceedings, but no way in heck that was going to happen. I knew that my clock had just started ticking. Let’s hope though I am eligible for bond, and let’s hope that the bond is something I can afford; otherwise I better get used to this lifestyle. I went back to the sink to clean my hands with whatever traces of soap that were left, and with semi-white hands went back to finish my breakfast; what was left of it anyway. I then looked at whatever was left of the cold grilled-eggs and threw it in the trash. I was in no mood to eat. I was clearly my enemy number one because for 14 years I got sidetracked and did not bother to take care of my paperwork, it was my own wrong doing which ultimately destroyed me. Now let’s hope that whatever got my attention for the past 14 years can save me; otherwise, it will remain here, and the only thing it will leave with me is it is a memory. “What do you want me to do?” I whispered to myself. “If I did not come in to register, I would be a criminal and would be deported; if I did come in to register to become a law-abiding alien, and then I will be deported for obeying the law. It was a Catch 22. Besides, who do you work for anyway? Leave me alone.” I then started sliding my back against the wall until my bottom felt the solid floor; I closed my eyes and wrapped my hands around my chilling legs. One my friends then said “Relax! Whatever happened, it had to happen for a reason.” I still was in no mood to talk. I kept breathing because I had to, but emotionally and psychologically, I was dead. The future looked dismal.
I did not know how much time had elapsed when I opened my eyes and heard the security guard yelling something about X-rays. “X-rays?” What ever it was, it was something I did not do, so I stood in line with the herd, and we all formed one line and went in into another stuffed cell down in the same hallway. I questioned the wisdom of hauling me from point A to point B, except that that there were a lot of people who were waiting to be x-rayed, but the answer came when the guard gave us a clipboard to write down our names, dob’s, and A numbers; for the people who did not get x-ray’d.
After putting my name down, I started looking around for an open seat when I saw lots of familiar faces. I saw my Kodak-moment friend, the young kid from my country, the fellow with the funny face, and my dear friend Mr. Muscle who was sleeping on the floor in the middle of the room. Nobody dared to walk over him, bump into him, or bother him. Size does matter. This was clearly my group and I was in the right place after all. I talked with most of them about this new x-ray thing, and I got the sentiment that it was for tuberculosis because INS wants to see if we were healthy before they turn us loose to the public. Some said that if the x-ray comes out positive than the arrestee will remain in INS custody until treated and diagnosed healthy. At the that moment, I used a couple of wet naps I smuggled in to clear my runny nose from the cold I got and saying out loud to my friend that it appeared it’s the allergy season for me. Some people questioned the bad timing to do the x-ray. Shouldn’t you do this before you stuff a lot of people without knowing their health history all in the same room? If the germ is in the air, it will circulate through the vents carried out by the A/C system, or maybe we will not get sick right away because we need time to harbor the germ and display symptoms. Either way, make sure you are very healthy before you come to INS for special registration, or you may end up being detained pending treatment, or you might talk to the judge from the incubation room.
As far as I was concerned, I would definitely get sick if I could not find a jacket. So I had to do something quick. The guard opened the door all of a sudden and called my friend Mr. Muscle. Mr. Muscle quickly got up and left, and the guard then quickly closed the door in my face before I got the chance to ask how I could get a jacket in Wonderland. That was the last time I saw my friend Mr. Muscle. I have to confess that I miss him; he did not let his bigness intimidate you, and he was a class act and humble all the way. He was popular with everybody: the INS staff, investigators, and Alhambra prison guards. We thought one had to show up ballooned with huge muscles to get the VIP treatment from INS. We later heard that he was released.
After seeing Mr. Muscle leave the room, my hope flared up again for a quick release; when this would occur, however, was beyond me. I looked at my friend with the happy face and he was asleep, this was the same for the CEO gentleman, so I managed to be beg the kid from my neck-of-the-woods who was using his red jacket as a blanket to part with half it so I could cover myself. We slept with our backs against each other so that both of us could use the precious jacket. After five minutes when I started feeling warm and became sleepy, the door opened suddenly and we were ordered again to form one line. It was lunch time. They served the usual with crackers and juice.
It was lunch time. They served the usual, with crackers and juice. Since I just woke up after a five-minute nap, I ate slowly and started enjoying my meal for the first time at the detention facility, realizing that soon I would learn my fate.
After lunch, the door opened, and they called my name with a bunch of others. The kid who shared half of his jacket with me was also called. The guard stated it was x-ray time, and we should all follow him to the end of the hallway. At the end of the hallway, there was the x-ray room and lots of chairs alongside the walls. We were ordered to have a seat. The guard then gave us two sheets to read, fill out, and sign. The first one was in case we got sick, we had to give the INS permission to treat us, and we all had to sign and date that sheet. The second sheet had about 21 questions in medical nature such as: Did you see a physician? Are you pregnant? Are you currently taking any medications? Do you suffer from any heart problems? Are you thinking of committing suicide? Do you have any psychological problems? Etc. Most of us wanted to answer yes to the last few questions, but this certainly guarantee for a longer detention time pending treatment by the INS, so all us opted to answer “no” to all questions. While we were sitting waiting for the doctor or the nurse to take the x-ray, one of the arrestees turned out to be a rad technician back home. He told the guard that he could see the machine and it is a little similar to what he was trained to use but more modern, and he asked the guard if the machine is still worth $500K, but the guard replied “No. It is a lot more than that.” “1 million!?” asked the arrestee, but the guard replied “more like 3 million!!” Three million! I could not believe it, and later I thought we were a true burden to the taxpayers. The guard explained that it is expensive because it takes x-rays and sends them electronically to a central computer located in the manufacture’s headquarters where the picture is analyzed quickly to indicate if the suspect is positive or negative for certain illnesses. Moments later, two males dressed in what appeared to be US Navy uniforms entered the room. The one with more stripes in his uniform entered inside the x-ray room, while the other started checking out our medical questionnaires before sending us inside to be x-rayed. The men turned out to be working under the Surgeon General, not in the Navy as we thought. When it was my turn, I entered the room, and the technician asked me to strip my top shirt, and in about two minutes, I was done. I think they tagged each picture with the alien’s “A” number. Then we were hauled back to the same cell to continue playing the waiting game.
When I returned back to the cell, the remainder of my group were also called to be x-rayed, so I had plenty of seats to choose from on an empty bench alongside the wall. I choose one away from the toilets and slowly started to gaze my eyes around the room to see if there were any familiar faces when I was interrupted by the person sitting right next to me. With his broken English, and my broken Spanish, we managed to exchange headaches. He was originally from Latin America and had gained permanent residence through asylum. He said that he was transferred from the LA county jail after spending one year there when his sentence was reduced from three years.
He stated that he was caught crossing the border illegally, smuggling narcotics and was now in deportation proceedings. However, he had his brother looking after the business back in El Salvador. Although I was eloquent and wished him best of luck, I had very little, if any, sympathy for him. It was people like him who made all of us, immigrants look bad; documented or not. He was lucky enough to gain residency here, but he chose to become a destructive member of the society by biting the hand that feeds him. Even though he is being deported, he indicated that his business is flourishing back home, and they always do not catch the big guy. I think being a good immigrant did not matter to him because although he had permanent residency here and was being deported, he will come back illegally crossing fenceless borders. Unlike most of us complying with the new laws, once we get deported we are never coming back due to a long distance of hardships. He was being deported for breaking the laws, and we were being deported for obeying the laws.
It was late afternoon and it was still cold inside the INS detention facility. I still did not know what my fate was going to be. I looked at most of my group who came back from being x-rayed. Most were either sleeping on the benches or on the floor. I was hoping that the door might open at least once to wake them up because I did want to wake them up and then borrow one of their jackets.
God answered my prayers when my friend with the funny faces started moving and yawning; he was awake – maybe a Divine intervention certainly not from me. He smiled at me before proceeding to play card games with his colleagues; this was a golden opportunity for me. At that moment I was very cold, and I did not care if I got deported or not, so I lay down where he was sleeping and asked him if I could use his jacket for five minutes. He cheerfully agreed, but after a few seconds, he turned his face towards me and said “your five minutes is up!” (He was having bad luck.) I replied with one bad gesture, but luckily for me, he did not see it because he was turned his back to continue playing cards. I do not remember how long I slept when the jacket owner woke me up because we were being called on. I quickly got up and moved with the herd to the first cell in the hallway facing the square-desked area. Right after we entered the cell, the officer started calling on people from my group. They placed the arrestee sheet along the glass panel. Clearly this was the time when we learned our fate. One person after another started coming back after meeting the investigator. Each one had with him three sheets: a warrant for arrest of alien; a notice of custody determination; and lastly, a notice to appear (NTA). We were all being found of having some immigration violations, being released under bond in the amount of $1500.00, and most kept the same “A” number they had previously with INS. One person bond’s was $5,000 because he had an arrest for driving too fast (about 93mph), and another one’s bond was $10,000.00 because he had an arrest for domestic violence. One person after another was being called from my group excluding me. This which made me worry that I might be spending another night in detention, but with the grace of God, my friends started pushing me toward the door to answer my caller.
I sat outside in the opposite seat from the one I sat down on the first time, and from the actions of the investigator, everything seemed to be going okay, but I held out till I could hear from him personally. “Speak English?” he asked, and quickly I replied “Yes sir.” He indicated that I was being found to have violated immigration laws by overstaying my visa without authorization from INS. He also gave me my bond amount which was $1500.00, and my NTA which did not have a specific date. I immediately expressed my appreciation for being approved to be released under a bond which my family could afford, and he was very friendly when he informed me that I could request a hearing from a judge to lower the bail amount if I could not afford it, but he said he has not seen anybody that was approved for a lower amount. Finally, he gave me my NTA and said that I could request a prompt hearing regarding my deportation. I explained that I was not in a rush to go back home after leaving it 14 years ago. I asked him if I could get my EAD back, and happily he obliged, but he said they had to keep my passport and my I-94. I then was escorted back to my cell to be greeted by almost everybody in my group. Everyone started giving me high fives; it looked like we were going to be released at the same time. I took the first seat I could find in order to read the paperwork I had been given. Unfortunately, even though I was happy to be released quickly with a low bond amount, I did not have a strong case like the rest of my group; my proceedings were imminent. If I do get my residency, I will probably be 52 years old, given the current processing times for my specific case; this is hypothetically speaking if I am ever allowed to come back. Most of my friends were happy twice: they were happy for being released, and they were happy because their paperwork is in the final stages. Their hard work and patience had paid off. I was served the papers, and my days are numbered.
My Kodak moment friend was the last one to be called from our group. He was meeting with a female investigator while we were transferred to another cell for an unknown reason. I could see him flirting and laughing with the investigator while we were being transferred. My Kodak moment friend quickly finished his interview to be escorted back to our new cell, and he informed us of his good news. He was also being approved for a low bond amount of $1500.00, and I asked why he was having too much fun with the investigator. He replied that he was wondering why she was so nice unlike the other INS staff, and she told him that she only adjudicates cases and she was called temporarily to help with the caseload they were having in the basement. Dinner was soon served, and we all ate with a humongous appetite.
After about an hour, the detention officer had separated us into two groups. My group who was scheduled to go to the Lancaster prison, while the other group, I think, was going to spend the night in the San Pedro prison. The staff indicated that it was very remote for us to be released that night, but definitely we would be released the next day. They also refused to let us spend the night in the detention facility as it was not designed to temporarily hold people in custody. While we were being sorted out, one of the INS staff called me – suddenly! I quickly ran to him to find out he wanted to give me my own jacket. I tried to hug him, but one of the detention officers stated that it was not possible. I immediately put the jacket on and thanked God. I had also remembered that I had a family worried about me in the outside world that I had totally forgotten about, so I quickly called them up and thanked them for their continued support. I also felt that I was blessed when my family told me that my attorney had drove almost 30 miles after hours to check on my situation at the detention center. I felt that I could have avoided causing this entire headache to him and my family by updating them periodically about my situation.
The guards then started putting us into separate tanks. I was placed together with the young kid from my country. I think there were about 50 people in my room waiting to be transferred, and when the guards stated that we were being transferred to Lancaster Jail, tempers ran high. Some people wanted to stay and spend the night inside the INS facility, but others wanted to go to Lancaster to get some sleep. Arguments soon followed between the arrestees and you can hear some of it in English and some in another language. The thrust of the argument was that we would not get enough sleep if we went to Lancaster because in the past, INS used to bring detainees in about 3:00am and haul them back at 7:00am and at this point it was already very late. Most of us thought that we would come back tomorrow to INS in the detention facility downtown, but INS had other plans in mind.
I think it was around 11:00pm when we were ordered to convene in the main hallway to be transferred to prison, and there were a lot of us there, probably all of us. Some found some seats and others remained standing. One of the guards started calling us to go to the different busses, and in about ten minutes, my name was called followed right after by the young kid from my block. We immediately proceeded to a big INS green bus, and it had lots of seats; you could fit about 75 people in it. I walked toward the back of the bus where I found an empty seat, and then sat down right next to the young kid from my country and waited for further instructions from the officers. The bus looked like a converted Greyhound bus but with stripped down amenities. The INS officer told us that they would treat us with juice but warned us not to leave any trash outside the bags. The bus had a restroom in the back exactly like s Greyhound bus, and the seats were slightly squeezed together to fit more people.
To be able to fit my long legs, I had to push against the back of the seat. Soon, the guard started driving the bus heading toward Lancaster prison. I was somewhat tired and hungry, but not cold. During the long journey, I had to push my head along the shoulder of my friend to sleep the entire trip. He whispered in my ear that it was time to get off. We got out of the bus around 2:00 in the morning and walked toward a barbed wire to be processed. I felt very cold although I had my jacket on. I was clearly not going to enjoy my experience inside the Mira Loma (Lancaster) prison early Thursday.
Thursday: Lancaster Prison
We stood in one long line that started inside the building and finished outside with some unlucky ones like me. Soon we all entered the processing area and were handed a small meal on the way in. The bologna was very spicy! The processing area consisted of a big hall with two somewhat sequestered bathrooms and one sink. Also, there were lots of benches to sit, sleep, or eat. After we all ate and coughed from the spicy bologna, it was about 3:00am when the guard started calling the first batch to be processed.
Some of us kept talking which made it harder to hear weird names. Given the trouble the guard was having, he finally to instructed all of us to shut up, but you could still hear some whispers. Processing was a little hard inside a State prison if you are not used to it; especially if you were the second or third batch to be called. During processing, we could see the first batch naked through the glass panel, and most of us looked the other way or did not bother much. When it was my turn to be processed in the second batch, I walked with a group of approximately 20 individuals and we were asked to empty our pockets of everything we had. They asked us to count how much money we had not including change, and if you had $40.00 or less, you were allowed to keep it. If you had more than $40.00, then they kept it along with all your State and Federal IDs. They made us sign a booking sheet that stated how much money we had, and they also fingerprinted us. We then were asked what size shoes we wore, and ordered to take off our clothing. With some series of inspection, we were ordered to raise our hands and legs with each matching left and right hand; cough, and a nurse asked us to move our hand and head in a certain way. They gave each of us a uniform and a jacket. We were asked after we finished wearing our uniforms to put our old clothing in the plastic hangers and put our money and IDs inside an envelope in our old shoes that they kept. One guard then gave each one of us a corresponding bed number, and we were handed one sheet/blanket and small towel. We were then ordered to leave the processing area forming one line. We headed toward our assigned barracks – number 15. We followed one of the correctional officers for about a mile to go into our barracks which was fenced off with another barracks. It was early dawn, and you could see the frozen grass everywhere.
When I entered the barracks, I started looking for my assigned bed, and there it was, number 55. The top bunk was mine, so my long legs helped me climb up and I tried to get some sleep and left my exploration till a later time. About 30 minutes later, I woke up to a loud voice over the intercom stating that it was counting time. I could see around me that some where sleeping, some were using the restroom, and others were watching TV.
The barracks were about 150 feet long and about 40 feet wide. In the middle of the barracks, there were showers on one side, and toilets and sinks on the other side. Toward the end of the barracks, there was a monitoring station for the guards, about six payphones, and a place where we could check-out toothbrush and toothpaste. The guard kept asking anybody and everybody on the floor to stay in bed while he was counting. He stated that if one of the other guards found any of us on the floor during counting time, then we would spend time in the hole. The counting time was repeated at random times throughout the day.
Right after counting time was breakfast time, and we were all ordered to form one line to walk to the cafeteria. The cafeteria was also about a mile walk, and although I did not mind the walk, I did mind the cold. “You do not want breakfast to be served in bed, do you?” I mumbled to myself. One thing was obvious about Mira Loma prison. There was an abundance of open space, and if you couple that with the extreme freezing temperature, the walk is not much fun; I am having a synergistic effect. I noticed that all of us undocumenteds were wearing blue uniforms, but there were others also in blue uniforms. Later, I learned that these people were the true convicts. Breakfast time was very orderly and quick. As our line was moving along to get food, the guards were emptying up benches to make room for us. Food consisted of a sweet white solution, a cookie, some kind of pancake, and vitamin D milk. I was just starting to enjoy my meal when I was ordered to vacate my seat to make a new room for the next comrades. As I was going, I saw whoever did not finish his meal would throw it away and give another inmate the empty plates. We were not allowed to take any food with us. “What I complete waste of taxpayer’s money!” I thought.
Walking about a mile back to the barracks in this chill, I could see guards scattered everywhere to keep order. The minute I got to my barracks, I asked the guard for some toothpaste, comb, and a razor blade. After about 20 minutes of personal hygiene, I headed straight to my top bunk and got lost for about three hours. At 11:00am, it was yard time, and at yard time you must go outside and vent. We all headed to a big hall. This hall was used as a church, theater, and buffet. We made one line and we played the one game we were all good at – the waiting game. We waited in line to buy a list of items which included anything from shampoo to chess to Coca Cola. There was one newspaper, the LA Times; it was exclusively for the guard who was assigned to keep order in that hall. Every now and then, he instructed the illegals to leave the paper alone. At one point, he told someone “You do not take something that doesn’t belong to you. Put it back.” We were all laughing because every five minutes or so some newcomer would start flipping through the pages, and the guard would repeat his instructions to leave it alone. This did not mean that we did not have a copy of the LA Times in our barracks. As a matter of fact, we had two copies, where we read about some protests that went on in Wilshire Blvd. We also had a color TV in our barracks where we could control the channels and volume, but I think the prison only had a few channels such as Fox, MS-NBC, MTV, and MTV Latin.
While I was waiting in line, I was given a sheet and a pencil to mark various merchandise. I could choose whatever I would like to buy. They had about everything necessary for me to buy, and they also could exchange our paper money with coins for use with the payphones. I could see an individual buying about 15 cans of soda and various other items, and I thought to myself that it was too much for one person to buy all that. After waiting for about an hour, the guards told us that the vendor was closed and that we needed to head back to the barracks. I started walking back to the barracks alone enjoying the warm sun. I stayed outside for awhile to contemplate what happened to me. Although I knew deep in my heart that I was not a criminal, I started to think like one. You clearly want to think about what went wrong. I played by the book throughout my life, but I just fell as an innocent victim to some people that were not licensed to practice law. Their advantages were that I was stupid and they spoke my native language, so I ate the bait and managed to destroy my life for a good number of years when I saw him after I entered the US for the first time. I could not blame the INS because they were open for business for the past 13 years; it was just that I could not do anything that could help my petitions. Garbage in, garbage out.
I stopped by one of the inmates who had bought lots sodas to buy one for triple the price. I did not want to go back empty handed after waiting in line all this time.
When break time was drawing to a close, I headed back to my bed and slept until it was lunch time which was the same scenario as breakfast but with a different food. They served juice, cookies, and meat. When I finished my meal, I was back toward my barracks hoping that my family would post my bond so I can get out today, Thursday. The guard in my barracks said that if I did get released that day, it would be anytime between 2 and 6pm. I could not reach my family by cell phone that day, so I just left a message and assumed that they were in line to pay the bond and did not give up.
Thursday Evening: Release!
One of my friends said that his family mentioned that INS told everybody waiting in line to pay to go home because INS would release everybody that was approved for bond and will give them a future appointment to pay their dues. Lots of people were happy and were cheered by the good news. I smiled and headed to my bed to do my favorite thing: sleeping.
At about 5pm, people sleeping to my left and right took their belongings and headed away to be released. So my sixth sense woke me up, and I started waiting for my turn, but it was not going to come soon. I got up and started walking around to see what friends I still had left to socialize with. One of them who had spent the night with me inside Alhambra jail invited me to play chess, and I did not mind. It was very hard for me to play chess because I could not think, and neither could he, I thought. Unfortunately, he was called by one of his friends because the guard was calling his bed number for him to be released. He waived goodbye to me and went away to oblivion. I could see the guard walking away left and right of my bed, but he never stopped there. Finally, he said “Can I have number 55?”, so I jumped up quickly and left the unfinished game to some of the unlucky ones to finish. I ran away back to the hall in the cold weather and had a seat with the other lucky ones. I immediately shook hands with my friend because we were both winners.
The rest was smooth sailing because the correctional officers gave us our appointment letter to pay the bond and returned the EADs the immigration had kept. We then went to the processing area where the guards had fun practicing our names. After we were given our old dirty clothing back, everybody was ready in no time, so they tagged and released us to INS detention officers which separated us into groups of 15 and hauled us in small vans toward the metro station. It was about 10pm Thursday night when our van stopped, and the door suddenly opened to freedom. “Okay gentlemen, all the way to the station!” the INS officer yelled. Without thinking, we immediately ran toward the light, and a lot of people ran in our direction to see if they could find their loved ones. I did not expect anybody to run toward me because I had no friends, and I did not want to drag my family all the way to Lancaster after waiting inside the INS building all day to pay the bond. I was thinking of taking a cab with somebody and split it in half, but clearly I could find a lot of people from my neck of the woods that was more than willing to drop me off somewhere in LA. One of my friends promised to give me a ride after his brother in-law got released. I got on my knees and said “McDonald’s, please?” He immediately obliged and drove me there where I was the only weird customer that looked like “George of The Jungle.” After I had a bite of reality, he drove me back to the Metro station to wait for his relative, and there I saw my Kodak moment buddy. We immediately hugged each other and exchanged news. As it turned out, he did not go San Pedro prison as I thought, but he went to Lancaster instead. He said everything is okay with him, but everybody in his barracks was taken outside wearing only their trunks to be searched in the early morning. They did not know what the reason behind it was. He said his goodbyes and wished me luck, and I replied with the same. I managed to sleep on an empty chair for some time until my friend called to me to drive me back to LA. During our drive, I made new friends and heard about a lot of horror stories about their previous night at San Pedro Jail. It was a very rainy Thursday night but they managed to drop me off right outside my doorstep to greet my family. I was quickly faced with a lot of questions but answered that I would explain everything later. I dragged myself to the shower and went straight to bed hoping for a better tomorrow.
One Month Later…
Our client receives a notice from the INS that the agency no longer wants him to post a bond.
The Immigration Service informs the Judge that they no longer wish to pursue removal proceedingsagainst our client, and the Judge terminates the case.
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Carl Shusterman served as an INS Trial Attorney (1976-82) before opening a firm specializing exclusively in US immigration law. He is a Certified Specialist in Immigration Law who has testified as an expert witness before the US Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Carl was featured in the February 2018 edition of SuperLawyers Magazine.