Sick Detained Immigrant to Appeal to U.N. for Help
By NINA BERNSTEIN
Published: June 24, 2010
A 61-year-old Jamaican man who spent three decades working in New York is likely to die of medical neglect in a Louisiana immigration detention center unless the United Nations intervenes, says an urgent petition that his advocates plan to submit to the international organization on Friday.
The unusual petition is a last-ditch effort to win the release of the ailing man, Carlyle Leslie Owen Dale, a legal permanent resident who has been held for deportation for more than five years as his court appeals languished and his health sharply declined from diabetes, chronic asthma, liver disease, severe arthritis and high blood pressure.
On Thursday afternoon, his advocates at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago learned of a new development that added weight to their argument that his detention was arbitrary and unjustified: The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had overruled Mr. Dale’s deportation order, finding that the Board of Immigration Appeals had wrongly concluded that his 2000 conviction for attempted assault made him deportable as an “aggravated felon.” The court sent the case back to the board for a new decision.
But it is unclear when, or even whether, that decision will lead to Mr. Dale’s release to his family, which includes a son, a daughter and two grandchildren in Orlando, Fla., and a son in Biloxi, Miss., all American citizens.
In a telephone interview from the Federal Detention Center at Oakdale, La., minutes after learning of the court ruling, he wept.
“I cannot understand why I should have been detained for five years and suffer as much as I did in a country like this, just because I exercised my rights to challenge my deportation,” he said.
According to his advocates’ petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in Geneva, Mr. Dale has been hospitalized five times in the past 20 months for problems including asthmatic bronchitis, acute diabetes, pancreatitis, chronic congestive heart failure, flesh-eating bacterial infection, obstructive pulmonary disease and a hernia.
Though doctors reported that he had suffered “near respiratory arrest,” the petition says, Mr. Dale recently endured days of gasping for breath at the Oakdale detention center; he had a nebulizer mask pulled from his face by an infirmary assistant who accused him of “faking it” and told him to do push-ups in his cell.
Mr. Dale filed a complaint about the assistant’s behavior, but it was declared “without merit” by the same detention official who had denied all his requests for release while his appeal was pending, the petition says.
An outline of Mr. Dale’s case, which did not identify him, was presented by National Immigrant Justice Center advocates at a White House meeting in May under the heading “The Next Death in Immigration Detention.” His advocates said they decided to turn to the United Nations group only after fruitless appeals to officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including Phyllis Coven, the acting director of detention policy and planning, who visited Oakdale this month.
Brian P. Hale, a spokesman for the agency, said that despite the Fifth Circuit decision, Mr. Dale was an “aggravated felon,” subject to mandatory detention. Mr. Hale said senior officials had reviewed Mr. Dale’s care and were satisfied that he had “unfettered access to medical treatment.”
Mr. Dale’s case, and the petition to an international body more accustomed to appeals from places like Myanmar and China than the United States, underscores the current frustration of immigrant advocates who were enthusiastic when the Obama administration first vowed to overhaul immigration detention. Their petition contends that medical neglect and human rights abuses remain rife in a system that continues to detain some 400,000 people a year.
Tara Tidwell Cullen, a spokeswoman for the center, said advocates hoped that bringing international attention to the Dale case would “increase pressure on ICE to improve oversight of detention facilities, and save the lives of our client and others.”
The government has been trying to deport him since 2005, based on his guilty plea to attempted aggravated assault in a 1998 shooting at a halfway house he operated in Uniondale, N.Y. Mr. Dale, who had never been in trouble with the law, served three and a half years in prison and paid more than $9,000 in restitution to the resident he shot with an unregistered gun during an argument in which he said he was threatened with a knife.
Until the shooting, Mr. Dale’s life had followed a path like that of many immigrants to New York. He worked his way through community college as a gas station attendant and a taxi driver, married and had three children, eventually rising through better jobs at Kennedy International Airport and an advertising agency in Oceanside, N.Y., and then establishing a business of his own, the Safe Housing Project
The Safe Housing Project operated several halfway houses for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. Mr. Dale worked closely with social services officials and detoxification programs in New York City and Nassau County.
The ruling in his favor by the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, turned on complex legal questions, including whether Mr. Dale had exhausted his administrative appeals. (He had.)
But in oral arguments, the chief judge, Edith H. Jones, showed a broader kind of sympathy for Mr. Dale when she learned about the circumstances of the shooting. “That makes it sound more like a caricature of what Texans believe New York justice to be — that self-defense is a crime,” she said.