Friday, February 23, 2007

Why is a 9 year old Canadian Citizen Being Detained in Texas?

Democracy Now! has the story of a Canadian boy being held in a detention center in Texas who is a victim of unanticipated circumstances. Amy Goodman interviewed his father (who is using a pseudonym).

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to break in for one minute, because we have just gotten a call from the Hutto detention facility. We're joined on the phone by an Iranian immigrant named Majid, from inside the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas. He, his wife, his nine-year-old son Kevin have been held at the center for the past nineteen days. Majid, your story is quite a remarkable one. Can you tell us how you ended up at this Texas jail?

MAJID: Hello. Thanks for taking my call. I was on my way to go to Toronto, Canada, and my plane was -- after three hours in the flight, somebody died on the plane and had an emergency landing to Costa Rica. After that, they said everybody should come out. After that, we went out. Immigration, they said you need to have American visa. We had no American visa. And they hold us over there --

AMY GOODMAN: Now, just to be clear, you were never planning to end up in the United States, is that right? You were flying to Canada, but another passenger on the plane had a heart attack, and so you guys had a forced landing in Puerto Rico, and when you had to come out of the plane, while he was taken off the plane, that's when they took you?

MAJID: Yes. This happened, yes -- was a Canadian Zoom Airline, and our ticket was direct from Guyana to Toronto. And this happened. They hold us -- my son is Canadian -- hold child is nine-and-a-half years old, and they put us in detention in Puerto Rico. And from Monday to Friday, I was in the jail in Puerto Rico between criminal people, and my wife and son was other place. We had no news from each other from Monday morning until Friday at noon, until we see each other in a Puerto Rico airport. After that, they brought us here to Hutto Detention Center, and here we are in same part, but different room. My wife and my son is room, but it’s totally inside the room, uncovered toilet. My son has asthma, and he’s very bad and still comes here. It’s very horrible here. And we are in very bad situation. We need help. We need the people help me --

JUAN GONZALEZ: Majid, in other words, basically, what reason did they give you for holding you if you never intended to enter the United States at all? What reason did they give for locking you up?

MAJID: Because they said, “You have an American visa?” That's why you have to stay here. Just plane was waiting one hour for us, but they didn't let us pass. A few officers came. They said Immigration officers -- six, seven -- they said, “We’re going to send you, but let us make decision.” After that, they called the police chief. He came there. He said, “Let me think five minutes.” After five minutes, he came, he said, “I’m going to send you to Canada, but I’m afraid to lose my job. But usually we have to send with your plane, but we keep you here. America is much better than Canada. Here you have safer place. We send you to hotel, and after a few days, you're going to be free.” But they broke their promise. That's why they keep us here, and we have very bad situation here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Do you know whether any other passengers on your plane were also detained in the same way, or was your family the only one, as far as you can tell?

MAJID: Only my family. No other passenger.

"Majid" was deported from Canada to Iran in December where he now claims he was imprisoned and tortured. The family was interviewed by someone from the Canadian consulate who reportedly told them they'll just have to let their lawyer handle their case. Goodman also interviewed the son, "Kevin", and a lawyer familiar with these types of cases and detention facilities.

AMY GOODMAN: Joshua Bardavid is an attorney that we are sitting with in the New York studio. When you listen to this story, what are your thoughts?

JOSHUA BARDAVID: Unfortunately, this is -- what he is experiencing is a very common experience. It is the reflexive use of detention for asylum seekers. The Majid family, they’re survivors -- from what he’s describing, he’s a survivor of torture. He was detained in Iran. He is seeking freedom, in this case, in Canada, arrives in the United States and is placed back in detention. The re-traumatizing effects of being placed back in detention cannot be underestimated. You have a child who is sleeping in what was a jail cell for a maximum-security prison that has been converted, but they still leave the exposed toilet, you know, sitting in the middle of their room. There's no privacy. With other children, he's in a room separate from his parents. Now, but the door may be not locked at night, but that door is certainly shut, and it’s a steel heavy door. They are placed in a prison. There's no doubt that this is a prison. And what is particularly troubling about this is that this was designed for the purpose of holding families, yet they made a conscious decision to maintain the facility as a prison, to leave the barbed wire, to leave the doors, to leave the environment as a prison.

It seems to me the Canadian government should be launching a protest with the US government about these horrible conditions and the fact that a 9 year old Canadian boy is being held indefinitely with his family in a process that could take months or even years to clear up.

We do have a foreign affairs minister who's busy hobnobbing with Condi today. Please contact him to request that he takes an active interest in this case.

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