UPDATE- Good news! Just as the National Immigrant Justice Center petitioned to the United Nations to intervene in Carlyle Leslie Owen Dale’s case, a federal appeals court overruled Mr. Dale’s deportation order. Following this, he was released from ICE custody on Wednesday, June 30th, and for the first time in 5 years, he was be at peace with his family. In a settlement with his lawyers from the justice center, federal officials freed him and let him board a greyhound bus to Orlando, Florida, where he was reunited with his family. On Friday, as he woke up listening to the voices of his grandchildren he told the New York Times in a phone interview, “I want to tell you how good it feels to be back in my America — the America that I love and that loves me.” Claudia Valenzuela, the lawyer that represented Mr. Dale in his detention case, said that his case was highly indicative of the arbitrariness of the current immigration detention system.
Carlyle Leslie Owen Dale is a 61 year old legal permanent resident who has lived in New York for thirty years, working his way through college as a gas station attendant and a taxi driver, marrying and having children, and finally, opening a business of his own, The Safe Housing Project, which operated halfway houses for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. For the past five years though, Mr. Dale has been in immigration detention, and is likely to die of grave medical neglect if nothing is done to redress his awful situation.
Owen Dale is facing deportation for a conviction of attempted assault that he received in 2000 for a shooting that took place in 1998 at a halfway house that he ran in Uniondale, New York. Mr. Dale served three and a half years in prison and paid $9000 in restitution to the resident that he shot during an argument in which he was being threatened with a knife. He pleaded guilty to the conviction, but even though his actions were in self-defense, he has been in detention, facing deportation since 2005. As per laws passed in 1996, immigrants are not able to challenge their detention or deportation. Moreover, immigration judges do not have the ability to consider the circumstances of each individual’s case. In terms of deportation, if an immigrant, including a legal immigrant, commits a crime, an immigration judge can be required to automatically deport him and cannot consider the circumstances of the case.
From 2005 to 2010, while Mr. Dale’s court appeals repeatedly came to naught, his health rapidly deteriorated as he suffered from diabetes, chronic asthma, liver disease, severe arthritis and high blood pressure. Mr. Dale has been hospitalized five times in the last 20 months for problems ranging from pancreatitis, chronic congestive heart failure, flesh-eating bacterial infection, obstructive pulmonary disease and a hernia. Doctors stated that he recently suffered “near respiratory arrest” and his complaints about detention staff that are ill-treating him have fallen on deaf ears. According to a complaint he filed, an infirmary assistant told him to stop “faking it,” removed a nebulizer mask from his face and ordered him to do push-ups. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson Brian Hale said that senior officials had reviewed the treatment that Mr. Dale was receiving and were satisfied that he had “unfettered access to medical treatment.”
The Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), which has been advocating for his release and argues that his detention was unjustified, learned last week that the United States Court of Appeals overruled his deportation order, saying that the Board of Immigration Appeals had made a mistake in deciding that his 2000 conviction for attempted assault made him an “aggravated felon.” Following this, the court has sent the case back to the board, asking them to review it. As it stands, it remains unclear whether Mr. Dale will be released to his family, which comprises of two sons, a daughter and grandchildren, all of whom are American citizens. Even if it were to eventually happen, given his medical condition, it might be too late.
Mr. Dale’s case has prompted the National Immigrant Justice Center to submit a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, based in Geneva, calling for them to intervene in this case and call for his release before it is too late. This petition is an unusual move for advocates, with the UN Working Group usually receiving petitions from countries like China and Myanmar rather than the United States. The urgency of the petition represents the extreme frustration that many immigrant rights advocates are currently feeling with no sight of promised reform on the horizon. Members of the NIJC hope that bringing international attention to Mr. Dale’s case will “increase pressure on ICE to improve oversight of detention facilities, and save the lives of our client and others.” The petition makes a broad case against the inhumane conditions in immigration detention saying that “medical neglect and human rights abuses remain rife in a system that continues to detain some 400,000 people a year”.
This case has shown why it is so urgent to reform the immigration system, to fix inhumane conditions in detention and ensure alternatives to detention. It is imperative that judges are given more discretion to decide who should remain in detention and face deportation.
Photo courtesy of nytimes.com