During a crisp, cool evening in Cuba, police barreled into Rodrigo’s home and brutally beat him with their batons – striking his stomach, shoulders and back. He fell to the floor and rolled over in pain. He listened as police warned him they could “make him disappear.” Then, he watched them scurry off into the night.
His “crime,” according to police: He had refused to participate in the country’s political reunions, and the beatings were his punishment.
Scared for his life, Rodrigo, 50, fled Cuba and flew to Mexico. He presented himself at a port of entry near Laredo, Texas. He was first taken to a correctional facility in Mississippi, where he passed his credible fear interview. On Nov. 22, 2018, he was transported to Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center.
But a month after his arrival at the immigrant prison, Rodrigo found himself confined to a wheelchair.
Rodrigo suffers from gout – a form of arthritis that causes sudden, severe attacks of pain, swelling, redness and tenderness in the joints. Because of ICE’s medical mistreatment of his condition, his chronic pain intensified to the point where he lost feeling in some of his toes. He can barely move.
ICE and prison staff have not paid attention to his excruciating pain, despite his complaints.
Rodrigo can bathe only with the help of his fellow detainees. They carry him to the shower and help scrub his body. He’s asked ICE for a seat so he can bathe in privacy, but his request hasn’t been approved.
The men he has befriended in the immigrant prison also help him get into bed. They push his wheelchair to the cafeteria.
Despite his pleas, Rodrigo doesn’t receive the right food to accommodate his condition, and he has lost 40 pounds during his detention.
What’s more, on several occasions, ICE officials have left him alone in his wheelchair at the medical clinic. He is then forced to use the restroom without assistance, which not only causes further pain, but also presents the risk of falling.
Rodrigo is now nearly immobile. His legs and feet radiate with inflammation, but he is only prescribed two pills a day. Doctors won’t tell him what the pills are, or what they do. He is kept in the dark, restricted to his wheelchair, and in constant pain.
On Jan. 10, 2019, he was denied humanitarian parole. That left his wife, a legal permanent resident of the U.S., in a state of constant worry.
Rodrigo said he is stuck in “hell.” At night, people scream in their sleep. He’s often dizzy and suffers headaches. His days consist solely of praying and occasionally watching TV.
He is depressed and sad. He often finds himself crying alone in his bunk. But what bothers him the most is that he followed the rules when seeking asylum. Instead of being allowed to go through the asylum process, though, he was locked up. Not only is he in pain, he also worries about his future as he remains incarcerated.
“I have no rights here,” he said. “I came here legally. I didn’t hurt anyone. I crossed the border legally. But I was detained. I haven’t been granted parole or asylum, even though I had to flee my country. If I am deported, they’ll kill me.”