Attorneys fighting against pastor’s deportation; Fear asylum seeker will be attacked if sent home

MGN Online

Attorneys representing Steven, a severely diabetic Ugandan pastor detained in Los Fresnos, are fighting against a final order of deportation issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would send him back to his home country where he faces certain death.

In a press release published on Wednesday, Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley stated that officials in Uganda got word of the young pastor’s imminent deportation, assumed he had already returned, and “took immediate action”.

“His sister was attacked and beaten so badly she was hospitalized with head injuries. There was a barrage of threats and intimidation against his family and friends. A Ugandan official risked her own safety to write and confirm not only Steven’s past torture, but the fact that as soon as he steps off the plane in Uganda, he will be taken away by security officers and killed. He would never arrive at the customs gate at all.”

Steven fled Uganda after the government began targeting him for pursuing human rights work including assistance to political prisoners in the jails and voting rights work. According to attorney Jennifer Harbury, officials cut off two of his fingers and dripped melting plastic bags onto his shins during torture sessions, finally forcing Steven and his supporters to flee the country.

In December 2018, Steven requested asylum legally at a port of entry in Brownsville, Texas, and was then detained at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, where his attorneys allege his diabetes has gone practically untreated. Steven is under 40 and is already blind in one eye as a result of his condition, has painful boils covering his body, and would be in extreme danger if he were to contract coronavirus.

“In detention, Steven was given inadequate medication for his diabetes, and tested only ever three months. He was given no proper diet. As his immune system weakened, he developed painful boils. By January 2020 his glucose reached extreme levels, placing him at risk of a coma or worse. Cataracts have left him near blind, but no surgery has been provided. In short, the conditions of his detention have broken his health,” the Tias wrote.

Harbury, alongside attorneys Cathy Potter and Lisa Brodyaga, Harbury has fought for months to get Steven released from PIDC due to his severe condition and the extreme risk of serious illness if he were to become infected with coronavirus. As of Wednesday, ICE reported a total of 61 positive COVID-19 cases among detainees. Twenty-five of those detainees were under isolation or monitoring, according to ICE’s website.

Both attorneys and elected officials have decried the alleged lack of preventative measures taken against the virus at PIDC, citing failure to properly enforce mask policies among guards, failing to provide adequate PPE and cleaning supplies to detainees packed into crowded dormitories, and retaliation against detainees who speak out against conditions.

U.S. Rep Filemon Vela,D-Brownsville, penned two letters to ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence this month citing reports from detainees inside the facility and their attorneys alleging improper treatment and failure to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended protocols and ICE’s own published guidance.

Harbury this month filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General detailing concerns that detainees are in danger inside the facility, where they’ve arguably all been exposed in some capacity.

Under the current order of deportation, Steven is scheduled for deportation in early July. Attorneys found this out through ongoing proceedings, as the Board of Immigration Appeals confirmed this week it would finally adjudicate a motion for a stay filed on the pastor’s behalf.

Steven was denied asylum even though the same judge granted asylum to one of his supporters, the Tias stated in a press release. Attorneys filed an appeal to the Fifth Circuit with a motion for a stay of removal, which was denied on June 16, prompting ICE to issue a final order of deportation.

Potter’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed on Steven’s behalf was denied by a federal judge in Brownsville early this month, and the same was the case for various motions to reconsider.

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com