By Nick Braune
July 8, Brownsville Herald: “A federal grand jury has returned a two-part indictment against Rama Carty Tuesday, charging him with assaulting, resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating or interfering with Lt. Eric Saldivar and detention officer Hector Buentello, Jr. in the performance of their official duties, the court record shows.” The article says Carty may face 16 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for his alleged violence last month at the Port Isabel Detention Center in southern Texas.
The next day, in response to the Herald article, I proudly joined a quickly-called morning picket line in McAllen outside the Federal Building, where Homeland Security has its offices; on the sidewalk about 14 of us chanted for justice and demanded that Carty be freed and that the frame-up charges be dropped.
The background is fairly simple. Rama Carty, 39, had been held in the Port Isabel Detention Center for about a year. After reading coverage of an Amnesty International report in the spring about the lack of due process in immigration detention centers, the poor conditions, and the disorganization of the system, Carty was invigorated and tried to get Amnesty to visit and take testimony at PIDC. He soon became somewhat of a spokesperson among the detainees and a key figure in a hunger strike trying to draw attention to the problems involved.
Not shy, he was soon in touch with some Rio Grande Valley activists around the Southwest Workers Unicn (SWU) who helped publicize problems at PIDC, and he was interviewed on Democracy Now and by Texas Monthly.
Amnesty International leader Sarnata Reynolds announced that she was going to personally visit Texas to speak to detainees at PIDC, making it clear that she believed a hunger strike had taken place – PDIC kept denying that it happened. Then on June 3, Amnesty visited, and Reynolds sent out a letter to supporters that very evening that she had met inmates, including Carty, and that she believes there are significant problems at PDIC, referencing Amnesty’s spring report.
(Amnesty reports are carefully prepared, taking the time to provide documentation, and they have considerable public weight because they are prepared well. Although over the years I have often wished Amnesty would take up different issues than it does, I do realize how limited their resources and personnel are and the large numbers of people internationally vying for Amnesty’s immediate attention on particular issues. Incidentally, I have been particularly pleased this decade with their 2005 report criticizing the egregious U.S. policy of imprisoning people for “life with no parole” for crimes they committed as children and was very pleased over this last month with their report strongly criticizing Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza last winter.)
The very day after Carty was interviewed, awfully early in the morning, Carty was roused from his sleep to be transferred to a Louisiana center, and from there to be shipped back to Haiti. It is obvious that the PDIC wanted to get rid of this nuisance who had been making waves for several months.
Apparently, according to one report I heard about, two of the guards who were assigned to process him became angry when he “went limp” in standard civil disobedience style, and they proceeded to rough Carty up as they moved him out. There was a report by inmates that there was blood on the floor. The SWU local members heard of the event from detainees who called them, and they began rousing their members and friends to make phone calls protesting this.
Amnesty, which was scheduled to speak to more inmates that day — it was a two-day visit – protested to the PDIC officials and demanded to talk to the guards who took Carty away that morning. The PDIC authorities were not cooperative and insisted that nothing was amiss, that the transfer of Carty had been planned for over a week and was not in response to their visit.
After the Brownsville Herald this week said that Carty was being charged with assault, resisting, etc., the Port Isabel prisoners and Rama’s supporters outside were of course shocked and angry. One prisoner communicated to the network outside. His comments: “I spent most of my days with Rama Carty in the library; not once had he ever gotten into a physical or verbal fight with anyone; his demeanor [was] refreshing. I can clearly say that the charges are trumped up.” There were also prisoners who witnessed the officers taking him out, and they verify Carty’s version of the story, although they were not allowed to get their version into the grand jury room.
One thing that may be behind the assault charges is that DHS had hoped to ship the hot potato Carty off to Haiti after they got him to Louisiana. But Haiti officials said they did not want him; he knows no one there and he is actually not from Haiti. True, his parents are Haitian, but he was born in the Congo and lived in Africa only his first year, moving to spend the rest of his life in the States.
Because Carty had been held in detention all these recent months supposedly to process him out of the country, when DHS found out he could not be deported to Haiti, they should have released him. Not having papers is a civil not a criminal offence, after all. Unable to send him to Haiti, however, DHS is apparently now arranging to send Carty to prison.