Homeland Security accused of retaliationBy Elaine Ayala
Amnesty International's visit to a federal detention center in South Texas last week was supposed to address charges of human rights violations made by immigrant detainees, many without access to lawyers and some facing deportation even though they've been in the United States most of their lives.
But now the human rights group's first-ever visit to the Port Isabel Detention Center has spurred more accusations — especially after an inmate who instigated the investigation was suddenly transferred to a Louisiana prison where inmates are readied for deportation.
Rama Carty, 39, a legal permanent U.S. resident in detention for a drug conviction, was transferred in retaliation for his outspoken views, according to both Amnesty and the Southwest Workers Union, a labor organization with an interest in immigration issues. Both groups say the move by federal officials has had a chilling effect on other inmates' testimony, a claim federal officials dispute.
“Mr. Carty's transfer to Louisiana had nothing to do with the group's visit,” said Nina Pruñeda of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Mr. Carty has a final order of removal.”
The La Salle Detention Center where he was transferred “serves as a staging area for removal of aliens being deported to Haiti,” she said.
Amnesty International has asked Homeland Security officials to halt Carty's deportation, said Sarnata Reynolds of Amnesty's immigrant rights campaign, one of two representatives who visited the facility.
Human rights advocates say the case has garnered widespread attention because Carty, who was born in the Republic of Congo to Haitian parents, is threatened with deportation to Haiti, a country he has never known.
He's one of more than 30,000 immigrants in U.S. detention, three times the number in such prisons a decade ago.
“We've never had anyone transferred in the middle of our interviews before,” said Reynolds, who added that she was shocked by the move. “We're concerned with the timing and manner it took place.”
Anayanse Garza, an organizer for the Southwest Workers Union, said Homeland Security is “making an example of him.”
Carty “has been very outspoken about the lack of due process as well as the physical and verbal abuse,” Garza said. “It was retaliation.”
Reynolds interviewed 11 of 22 prisoners she asked to see. She said Carty's transfer “affected all the other interviews. Everyone was scared. It had a chilling effect.”
The case also has spurred criticism of Amnesty by South Texas immigrant rights advocates, who say the group should have been more public about Carty's transfer last week.
“The community of the Rio Grande Valley welcomed Amnesty International's visit last week,” said Alejandro Guzman of the workers union. “The community is very disappointed with Amnesty International right now.”
Garza said she was “very alarmed and very worried that this happened under Amnesty's nose.”
“The challenge for Amnesty now is to take responsibly for the situation now that they're gone,” she said.
Amnesty has asked to interview the officers who were involved in transferring Carty. Some inmates have already reported that excessive force was used, Garza and Reynolds said.
“I was disappointed,” Garza added. “I expected them to take more of a stand against the abuse. I expected it to be more public. I expected them to take a stand on what happened to Rama Carty. I don't think it's too late. It still has an opportunity to take a stand.”
Reynolds responded, “I know they are disappointed with us.” However, “We work in different ways. We have a methodology. We do thorough investigations, and we're not necessarily immediately vocal.”
Meanwhile, Raymond Joseph, Haitian ambassador to the United States, said he had been contacted by advocates for Carty and told them that if Carty has no official Haitian birth certificate, he would not be allowed to travel there.
Advocates say Carty does not have a Haitian birth certificate and has never been to the Caribbean country.