'Hector Lopez is My Hero' – Isenberg's Appeal for Release

Editor’s Note: In the following letter to the ICE Director in Phoenix, immigration advocate Ralph Isenberg of Dallas, TX states his case for the immediate release of Hector Lopez from a detention facility in Florence, AZ.

In the letter Isenberg offers to take responsibility for any transportation or monitoring costs that would be involved in releasing the 21-year-old college student. Isenberg also discusses contradictions in immigration policy. On the one hand the President has announced a policy of discretionary lenience for undocumented college students who have grown up in the USA. On the other hand, immigration officials appear to be under continued pressure to meet deportation quotas.

Isenberg has been involved in immigration advocacy since the time he successfully campaigned to have his wife returned from China. Since that time, Isenberg has been active in the successful campaign to release all children from the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, TX.

Isenberg is also active in efforts to return American dreamer Saad Nabeel to the USA where the young man will be able to complete his engineering studies and strive for admission to Stanford graduate school.

Meanwhile please share the need to send holiday cards to Hector for as long as he remains wrongfully detained. –gm

December 13, 2010

Katrina Kane
Field Office District Director
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Phoenix, AZ 85004

RE: Hector Lopez A 074809057

Dear Ms. Kane:

I write in support of your office using the discretion it has to immediately release Hector Lopez. While not an attorney, I am familiar enough with current policy and procedure to know you have it within your power to honor my request.

I am willing to take responsibility for Hector and make certain that he has both shelter and the means to return to Arizona immediately should you require his presence. I am also willing to reimburse the government for reasonable expenses associated with alternative methods of detention like ankle bracelet, home call-in or home visit. It is incumbent that we bring a quick end to his detention.

Hector Lopez may not be an American citizen but he is as American as you or I. I believe that he finds himself detained through no fault of his making and perhaps even through no fault of his parents. As I understand the facts, his parents did in fact enter the United States without proper documentation but they later tried to correct that situation and become documented.

The parents dreamed of a day when they would all be Citizens of the United States. They hired a family attorney to handle their immigration matters who was later punished by the Bar of California for not notifying clients of pending immigration hearings. The family was ordered deported by an Immigration Judge for failure to attend a hearing that the Lopez family had no notice of. Hector was a mere child when this happened.

Ineffective assistance of counsel and failure to get notice are grounds that should result in the case being reopened. In the meantime, it is clear that you have it within your discretionary power to release Hector. There are other factors that I believe should weigh in his favor. The family has never hid from immigration or done anything to hide their identity. Their social security cards came from the Social Security Administration and their driver licenses came from the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicle.

The family has always paid taxes. Mr. Lopez worked for the same company for seventeen years and his wife worked in a similar fashion until three years ago when she opened a small family owned convenience store. Their two sons have always been model students. I also find it interesting that the Lopez children do not speak Spanish. Their parents raised them to know and understand only one culture. That culture is the American way. This is the type of family every American would welcome as their next door neighbor. Hector is a person of the highest moral character and will not be a flight risk. I trust the above stated is sufficient evidence to compel you take do the right thing and release Hector.

I also believe that the deportation of Hector was flawed because Hector Lopez is a Dream Act student. Less than two weeks before Hector was deported, the President of the United States delivered a speech at the University of Texas that stated Dream Act students would not be deported. On the same day, the New York Times reported that the Obama Administration would not be deporting Dream Act students. “In a world of limited resources, our time is better spent on someone who is here unlawfully and is committing crimes in the neighborhood,” John Morton, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said, according to the New York Times. “As opposed to someone who came to this country as a juvenile and spent the vast majority of their life here.” During the same period of time scores of Dream Act students have been granted various kinds of deferred action by District Directors, such as yourself, around the country.

I have been at a loss to explain why Hector was deported until I read the Washington Post last week. In an article entitled “Unusual Methods Helped ICE Break Deportation Record” it was reported that ” ICE officials realized in the final weeks of the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, that the agency still was in jeopardy of falling short of last year’s mark, they scrambled to reach the goal. Officials quietly directed immigration officers to bypass backlogged immigration courts and time-consuming deportation hearings whenever possible, internal emails and interviews show. ICE also ran a Mexican repatriation program five weeks longer than ever before”. I find it interesting that the Seattle District Office might have been under unusual pressure to produce results in that they had a new Director assume office in July of 2010. Hector Lopez was deported at the height of this deportation frenzy. We owe it to Hector to grant him relief if there is one shred of truth to the Washington Post report.

As for the asylum claim, I believe it best to let the experts interview Hector and determine for themselves whether his fears are real. Obviously, he is at a distinct disadvantage being forced to live in a culture that he neither speaks the language nor understands. The fact that he would rather sit in a detention center in Arizona than be free in Mexico speaks volumes about what must be going on in his mind. When I read the headlines that speak of the terror going on in Mexico I am thankful he is out of there. The violence in not limited to a certain part of the country. I also know that the Department of State still has active travel advisories associated with these conditions.

The danger to Hector is not just gang related. There are political parties, currently not in power, that blame and target everything American. Such activity is particularly present on various university campuses around Mexico. I question how Hector can get a quality education in Mexico and not find himself in danger. I am confident that if Hector is treated fairly, unlike what happened to him at the border when a Border Patrol Agent tried to fool him into signing deportation documents, he will be granted asylum. Beyond the asylum claim, I believe Hector is eligible for other forms of relief. Hector Lopez is deserving of your help. To hide behind the use of discretion, when it is available to you, for cases like this would not be right.

Family unification has been a fundamental cornerstone of our immigration policy since inception. It is basic to our way of life and must not be ignored. Too often those involved in immigration tend to forget the words of our forefathers as expressed in the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. “Due process of law is something that applies to all people that happen to find themselves on our soil. Too often those involved in immigration tend not to ask what was the intent of Congress when asked to make a decision. Congress has always given the immigration decision makers broad discretionary powers for a reason. We know that no two immigration cases are ever alike and that some fall between the cracks of common reasoning and are deserving of special attention and action. Such is the case of Hector Lopez.

Allow me to discuss one doctrine which I think speaks directly to the case of Hector Lopez. We have on our books a form of relief known as Humanitarian Reinstatement. I realize that the rules speak to when someone is applying for admittance to this country and the petitioner dies. But I also feel that the evaluating criteria used for such requests is powerful and shows the intent of Congress when it comes to families. The factors that our Congress asks immigration officials to consider are very much on point to the case of Hector Lopez.

It is clear there has been a disruption of an established family unit. There is also an extreme hardship created for the younger Lopez child who is an American citizen. Hector has no home to go to. It would also appear that there is going to be delays associated with processing his case. Finally, Hector has strong family ties in the United States. I believe these ties go beyond his immediate family and include his girlfriend, friends, classmates, fellow workers and the community at large. Surely there must be some provision within the massive discretions you have that can be granted to Hector.

To Hector you are the most powerful person in the world. With the stroke of a pen you can set him free and give this young man his freedom back. Hector has demonstrated great courage so far. He has done everything asked of him. I am very proud of him. He is my hero. His detention must end now. I always say that in life there is right and there is wrong and there is the right thing to do. In my heart I have got to believe you understand what I am talking about and will do the right thing.

Kindest Regards,

Ralph Isenberg
Dallas, TX

Demanding Dignity, Not Detention at Hutto Detention Center Vigil

Taylor, TX – On Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 7 p.m., friends and advocates of the women detained at the T. Don Hutto Center will hold a vigil at 1001 Welch in Taylor. The vigil is part of a statewide opposition to the growth of detention centers in Texas. The vigil, organized by Texans United for Families, Grassroots Leadership, and other community members, marks the one-year anniversary of ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton’s announced plans for a major overhaul of the agency’s immigration detention system. Nevertheless, little has changed to date.

Last August, in response to sharp criticism from advocacy groups, community organizations, and government officials, Morton promised sweeping changes aimed at improving detention conditions for the nearly 400,000 immigrants held in the custody of ICE each year. According to Morton, the agency intended to take substantial steps to transform the sprawling network of approximately 350 jails and prisons into a non-penal “civil detention system.”

As part of its reform effort, ICE discontinued the detention of families and children at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas. The Hutto facility received national attention in 2007 when it became the target of protests and lawsuits brought on behalf of 26 immigrant children detained with their parents at the facility as a result of the substandard conditions.

Today, ICE uses the Hutto facility, which is privately owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), to detain women. Hutto came under scrutiny again this year when ICE announced its investigation of a pattern of sexual assaults by a CCA guard.

“A year ago, we were heartened that the Obama administration ended family detention at Hutto and took on reforming the broader immigration detention system,” said Rocío Villalobos, a member of Texans United for Families. “Today, the majority of women at Hutto are seeking refuge from violence in their home countries. This spring’s sexual assault incidents show how detention subjects people to more violence which deepens their trauma, rather than protects them from it.”

Sexual abuse has been an ongoing problem in detention facilities in Texas. In 2007, CCA fired a guard for initiating sexual contact with a mother detained with her family at Hutto. In 2008, the WOAI news station in San Antonio reported sexual abuse of women detained at the GEO Group’s South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall. Earlier this year, a former Port Isabel Detention Center officer was sentenced to prison for abusing detained women at the south Texas detention center. Reports of sexual abuse against females in detention have also plagued MTC’s (Management & Training Corporation) Willacy County Detention Center in Raymondville, TX.

The sexual assault incidents also seriously call into question ICE’s heralding of Hutto as a model detention facility. “Building more detention centers won’t solve this problem,” said Lauren Martin of Grassroots Leadership. “ICE must transform its system towards one that prioritizes release over detention. That is the only way to ensure these tragedies do not continue.”

Aug. 22 Freedom Walk to Close Hutto Immigrant Prison

Join Free the Children Coalition on Aug.22, 2009, in Taylor, Texas, to close the T. Don Hutto Residential Center down and free the immigrant children being detained by the Department of Homeland Security and Corrections Corporation of America.

The Freedom Walk starts at 1pm from Heritage Park towards the detention center where a Protest/Vigil will take place from 2pm-5pm. For more info, contact:


Peace be with you,
Pedro Ruiz


Note: According to a report by Juan Castillo in the Aug. 8 Austin-American Statesman, the last family will not be removed until the end of 2009. The children are not gone from Hutto yet.–gm

Plans Continue for Hutto Protest Aug. 22

The Aug. 22 Freedom Walk and Protest Vigil of the T. Don Hutto prison for immigrants is still scheduled as planned. Organizers are calling for a noon gathering at Heritage Park in Taylor, Texas, and a 1p.m. walk to the Hutto facility. A rally is scheduled from 2p.m. to 5p.m.

Organizer Pedro Ruiz of the Texas Indigenous Council remains critical of the detention status quo. Although the federal government has announced that families with children will no longer be assigned to the Hutto facility, Ruiz says moving the issue to the Berks facility in Pennsylvania is not a satisfactory solution:

“They can call it whatever they want to call it,” Díaz told the San Antonio Current. “But if families are not free to go, it’s still a detention center. We used Berks as a template of what we wanted Hutto to look like but, in my mind, a golden cage is still a cage. If you’re not free, you’re not free.”

Amnesty Club Forum: Immigrant Detainees Receive Punitive Treatment

By Nick Braune
Mid-Valley Town Crier
by permission

About 75 people attended what became a full-scale briefing on America’s crude
immigration detention centers. The student club of Amnesty International at South Texas College, Weslaco, convened this public event on June 10, inviting three important speakers.

Jay Johnson-Castro, founder of Border Ambassadors and director of the Rio Grande International Study Center based at Laredo Community College, spoke on the need to shut down the Hutto detention center, the notorious institution near Austin that imprisons about 200 children. Although Homeland Security has said it is not bothered by imprisoning children because the parents are in the prison with the children, and although conditions are better now than two years ago before an ACLU emergency lawsuit forced some changes, Hutto continues to be a disgrace: punitive and unnecessary. Johnson-Castro and many others want it closed. (On June 20, International Refugee Day, there is a planned protest rally at Hutto.)

A second speaker, Anayanse Garza, from the Southwest Workers’ Uni*n, described how her group had gotten involved recently in publicizing the hunger strike of inmates at Port Isabel’s detention center. (An Amnesty International report on injustices in detention centers was published in the spring, and good-sized coverage of it appeared in USA Today; this article reportedly circulated hand to hand inside Port Isabel and emboldened some inmates who organized and sustained the hunger strike for a good while.) Garza described how her group (SWU) contacted people inside and held several rallies outside the center, generating press coverage for the actions. Garza also detailed the case of Rama Carty, one of the leaders of the hunger strike; she said that Homeland Security has retaliated against Rama, moving him to Louisiana and trying to deport him quickly to Haiti, although he has never lived in Haiti in his life of 39 years.

Because of activists like Johnson-Castro and Garza, Hutto and Port Isabel have been in the news a bit lately, but I had virtually forgotten about the situation in the massive Raymondville immigrant internment camp, 50 minutes north of Brownsville. The third speaker at the Amnesty club forum, immigration attorney Jodi Goodwin, described the Raymondville situation. Up to 3,000 refugees and immigrants with contested legal status are held, out of sight, in spirit-breaking prison conditions behind barbed wire.

The Raymondville detention facility is a “tent city” — I have seen it from the outside, counting about a half dozen billowy tents apparently divided into “quads” — built in only 90 days in the summer of 2006. Made of cement slabs, steel ribcage, and canvas, this type of temporary housing has been used in Iraq to house soldiers for a few days at a time, between assignments, but, explained Goodwin, we are talking here of incarcerating people for 6 months to over 2 years in these tent monstrosities. Goodwin said that the Management & Training Corporation and Willacy County make a fortune from this facility and they found that 2,000 beds were not enough, so they built a more “traditional structure” behind the tents with an additional 1,000 beds. (This put Raymondville to work, a broken town of about 5,000.) There is more bed space in the detention centers south of San Antonio than in the rest of the U.S. combined, Goodwin explained.

But how much legal defense do these thousands get? Virtually none, according to Goodwin. Only one attorney and two paralegals are available in the major pro bono organization doing legal work here in the Valley. (And its activities are somewhat limited, as I understand it, by Bar Association rules.) At immigration court, individual detainees are not given a lawyer. No one here has the famous “right to an attorney, and if you cannot afford one, one will be provided.” Because of a loophole — deportation and related proceedings are considered civil matters and not criminal — the expected right to an attorney does not apply to these incarcerated thousands. If one is lucky enough to find a pro bono lawyer to take the case, great. If not, one needs to find one’s own private attorney and provide the funds. And all together in the Valley, with thousands of detainees, there are still only three attorneys who are actually board certified in immigration law!

The choice of the Valley for mass processing of immigrants was intentional on the part of ICE and DHS. Up in the Northeastern states, there are many firms doing pro bono work and more lawyers and support networks for this type of legal practice. That is why DHS moves prisoners down here, packing flights daily. The government can process these people — or as is often the case, delay processing them for six or eight months at will — with little intrusion by pesky lawyers.

I’ll save some of the details Goodwin related for later — mental health issues being ignored, some foot fungus problems ignored, poor food, poorly trained staff, etc — all hidden under tents.