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Stories From SIFI: They worked hard for a better life in America until ICE detained them

From time to time, Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) lawyers share stories about the challenges their clients are facing. Below are brief narratives about the struggles of three detained immigrants who are receiving legal representation from SIFI at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia.

Roberto Bladimir Peraza Tobar

Roberto came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 2008 on an H2B visa for temporary, non-agricultural workers. He thought he was going to Louisiana to do reconstruction work, but found himself entangled in a cruel human trafficking scheme.

He spent his first four months in the U.S. crammed into various apartments – at times sharing a single apartment with up to 20 men – with limited access to food. He was forced to work for almost no pay.

He and several other men who were held under these conditions were able to escape with the help of a local resident. Following his escape, he met his wife and began to build a life for himself in the U.S. He worked diligently to support his wife and his baby daughter as their sole provider.

That ended, however, when he was arrested in early November 2017 in Georgia for a driving incident. He spent nine days in jail, and then he was transferred to the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold.

Roberto has suffered greatly in detention at ICDC. With limited funds on his phone account, he has found it nearly impossible to call his family. He was placed into solitary confinement “for his own safety” after another detained individual made threats to him about his wife. After spending more than three weeks in solitary confinement, he was released from segregation only after a staff person noticed that his nose was bleeding, and inquired about his health.

Roberto is terrified to return to El Salvador and devastated to be separated from his wife and infant daughter.

Mauritanian Evangelist

This client, who did not wish to be named, came to the U.S. from Mauritania in 2013 on a tourist visa. He came here because he wanted to practice Christianity without fear. While studying abroad in Tunisia, he converted from Islam to Christianity. He began translating religious videos into Arabic, and published them on YouTube.

After returning to Mauritania, he was arrested for spreading Christianity – a criminal offense in that country – and spent 100 days in prison. Mauritanian police interrogated and threatened him, ordering him to convert back to Islam. While holding him in a cell, officers beat and tortured him on three separate occasions for his religious beliefs and his refusal to convert to Islam.

To protect him from further abuse, his father applied for him to get a visa to the U.S. He arrived in 2013, working and living most recently in the Atlanta area. That came to an abrupt end when he was arrested for loitering. He was transferred to ICDC in early October 2017.

Honduran Refugee

This client, who also did not wish to be named, entered the U.S. in 2002 via Texas. From the time he was a young boy, he was subjected to brutality and violence in his home country of Honduras.

At age 6, he witnessed the shooting death of a preacher right in front of him. He was forced to join the army at 16. He and several of his fellow soldiers were victims of harassment and assault by a lieutenant, and he was subjected to solitary confinement and torture, ranging from psychological abuse to being forced to bathe with toilet water for speaking out against the mistreatment. Officers slammed his fingers with a gun at one point, resulting in the loss of his fingernails.

He fled to the U.S., working and living here from his arrival in 2002. His brother was murdered suddenly back home in 2014, making it even more important for the client to be able to stay in the United States.

He had been living in the U.S. with a fellow Honduran friend for over eight years when he was arrested in November 2017 for a driving incident. He spent several days in jail before he was transferred to ICDC on an ICE hold. He has been detained there ever since, fighting his asylum case with the help of SIFI lawyers.

The Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative is a project of the SPLC that enlists and trains volunteer lawyers to provide free legal representation to detained immigrants facing deportation proceedings in the Southeast.