Musings on Immigration

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Brain Cancer, ICE and Deportation from the Stewart Detention Center

Johanna Cochran one of our stellar attorneys recently took a pro bono case for a Mexican man detained at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia,  who, despite a diagnosis and treatment for brain cancer, was refused release from detention to seek urgent medical treatment. Our client was a Legal Permanent Resident of the U.S., had been living in this country for over 25 years, and was the father of three U.S. citizen children. He was detained because of a recent battery charge for which he was convicted. This man failed to seek the advice of an attorney before pleading guilty to the charge and it was not until officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) went looking for him, that he sought an attorney to try to reopen his criminal conviction (which he had pled to without attorney advice).  By reopening the case, this long term permanent resident would not be deported.

Our firm quickly learned that our client had some serious medical conditions that needed urgent medical attention—attention he was not getting in Stewart. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in the summer of 2014, underwent brain surgery in June, and started radiation treatment in November of the same year. By the time he was detained by ICE (in early February 2015), he had finished radiation treatment but was ordered by his physician to follow up with him every two weeks and to take several medications prescribed to him. Needless to say, our client was forced to abruptly stop his life-saving treatment and medication during his entire stay in Stewart, which amounted to almost 3 months.

Our client’s health deteriorated so dramatically that he developed other worrisome symptoms. He suffered from chronic headaches (likely related to his brain cancer diagnosis) and he reported to us that the staff at Stewart dealt with this issue by giving him a couple of ibuprofen pills a day. He lost a dramatic amount of weight while in detention and the left side of his throat was visibly swollen. He informed us that he had asked the Stewart staff to take him to see a doctor and that it was not until several weeks later that his request was granted. However, during his visit to the doctor, he was handcuffed so tightly that his hands turned purple—a condition that lasted for several days. When our client asked the staff at Stewart to take him to the doctor again, the staff refused to do this until the purple color came off his hands, which did not happen until several days later.

Our firm filed a stay of removal with DHS asking for the immediate release of our client under supervision for the sole purpose of seeking urgent medical attention. However, despite the overwhelming evidence that our client’s life was in serious danger, DHS denied our request. Our firm immediately filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Georgia asking for our client’s immediate release citing to violations of the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment. DHS’s response? Immediate removal. Sadly, the Middle District of Georgia cannot possibly act quickly enough to grant any kind of relief and DHS knows this, so it is easier for the Department to remove people from the country and wash their hands than to address and rectify legitimate issues of inhumane treatment in its detention centers.

It is one thing to keep detainees behind bars because they may be a danger to the community, but it is quite a different one to do this in violation of the U.S. Constitution and place their lives at serious risk.  Treatment for brain cancer is no longer sufficient reason, under the Obama Administration to be grant a stay of removal to a long term permanent resident.  


To read more about this case, you can click on the following link to an interview given by our client to the news magazine Mundo Hispanico.

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