MIAMI – The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) issued the following statements urging the immediate release of Noel Ricardo Stephens from detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Baker County Detention Facility in MacClenny, Fla. For over three years, Stephens has been held in ICE custody and subject to racist verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and denied proper food and health care.
Stephens is a former lawful permanent resident and is a Black LGBTQ immigrant from Jamaica who has lived in the United States for 23 years. Jamaica criminalizes LGBTQ people and, under existing law, Stephens may face up to 10 years in prison if accused of engaging in same-sex conduct. Further, he suffers from a debilitating medical condition and lives in filthy and unsanitary conditions in ICE custody, without access to a proper healthy diet.
At various ICE detention facilities where Stephens has been detained, including Baker County, officers have used derogatory insults, including racial slurs, toward Stephens and other people of color detained by ICE, telling them they have no rights in this country and any abuse perpetrated by ICE or its contractors was their fault for being here.
Stephens has been in ICE custody for over three years, with no final decision on his case. The Board of Immigration Appeals took almost a year and a half to give him a new hearing after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit noted errors in his removal proceedings and remanded consideration of his case for protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. He has a pending case for deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture. The government has refused to release him on humanitarian medical grounds despite Stephens’ sickle cell disease and related COVID-19 vulnerability, vertigo, and severe joint pain.
Noel Ricardo Stephens issued the following statement:
"I spoke with Deportation Officer Brickman who was more than happy to let me know that it would take a long time for my case to resolve at the Immigration Court because of how packed the system is and said, 'You're gonna be at Baker a long time, Mr. Stephens.' They won't even transfer me up north to be closer to my family."
Felix Montañez, senior staff attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center:
“This Administration promised a fair, orderly and humane immigration policy, and Noel Stephens’ case shows that some within government are not committed to the president's stated objectives. The only just outcome is for the federal government to release Mr. Stephens immediately so he can be with his family. He has already completed his sentence and paid his debt to society. The only reason he is not free is due to mass incarceration policies the Biden Administration should swiftly move to curtail.”
Rose Murray, senior direct services attorney for the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) at the Southern Poverty Law Center:
“ICE’s refusal to release Mr. Stephens on humanitarian parole is unconscionable, especially so given his medical conditions and the racist, homophobic abuse that he has survived without redress during this imprisonment with no end in sight. Mr. Stephens should be at home with his family.”