Lack of access to legal counsel and bond hearings were just two things that Amnesty International representatives found trouble with after touring the Port Isabel Detention Center near Brownsville this week.
"It's very hard to find legal counsel," Sarnata Reynolds told Hair Balls. Reynolds, AI's police and campaign director for refugee and migrant rights, said the center's remote location makes it nearly impossible for the 650 current detainees to hire a lawyer. She was one of two representatives who toured the facility and interviewed detainees and officials Tuesday and Wednesday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) describes Port Isabel as a "detention center for individuals who are waiting for their immigration status to be determined, or who are awaiting repatriation."
The key part is "waiting." Reynolds said she talked with detainees who have been locked up for over a year -- although most were previously held in centers in Pennsylvania and other parts of Texas. While the detainees have criminal convictions, Reynolds said, not all were hit with felonies.
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"They can be misdemeanors, and they can be minor enough that the person didn't serve one day in jail whatsoever -- they just got probation," she said.
But even if the original conviction was a misdemeanor, their immigration status automatically bumps it up to an "aggravated felony," Reynolds said. This means they're slammed with "mandatory detention."
"You're locked up, and you have no right to a bond hearing," she said. "You have no right to ever demonstrate that... 'I'm not a danger to the community, I'm not a flight risk, so let me out while I proceed [with] my removal proceedings.'"
Reynolds clarified that these were just "preliminary findings," and Amnesty International has not issued an official report on Port Isabel.