Detainee details time in ICE subfield office ‘black site’

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokespeople balked at questions posed by the Colorado Independent in January about the roughly nine ICE “substation” holding facilities located throughout the state. They downplayed concerns about rights violations and about detainees disappearing for hours and days unable to be located by loved ones and advocates. Basalt-resident Edgar Niebla was held in one of the substations. He told the Colorado Independent the concerns are justified.

“I was asleep when they arrived. My mom cried. My sister wasn’t upset, she got mad instead… I complied with them as they arrested me and took me to Glenwood Springs for processing.”

He said he arrived at the Glenwood substation at around 7 a.m. and they held him there until 5 pm.

“There was just a room with a bench and a toilet and a sink. They hold you there until they have gathered enough people” to make it worthwhile to transport them in a group, Niebla said.

Officers eventually took Niebla and two other undocumented immigrants, one from Montrose and one from Craig, to the main ICE facility in Aurora.

Niebla said he asked to make a phone call in Glenwood and, after a few hours, the officers let him place a call. Niebla said they mocked him for wanting to be a police officer and they mocked a T-shirt they found in his bag that said “Reform immigration for America.”

Niebla wasn’t beaten or tortured or killed. By most standards, he wasn’t ill treated.

But that’s not the point, at least not this time, say critics of the subfield office system.

Considering the nether realm

Chandra Russo of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition told the Colorado Independent in December that because immigration is regulated by civil law, it lies in a legal “nether realm.” She said that the absence of proper regulation surrounding the subfield office networks raises legitimate questions about due process.

Jacqueline Stevens, a professor in the Law and Society Program at the University of California Santa Barbara, wrote an article for the Nation in December based on a list she obtained of 186 unlisted subfield offices used as temporary detention facilities across the country. The list included the Aurora Center run by the GEO Group, plus facilities in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Grand Junction and Loveland, none of which appear to be listed on the ICE detention center page, which only appears to list the Aurora Center and Denver and Washington DC contact numbers. There is no Glenwood Springs ICE detention facility listed on the site.

Stevens argued that the lack of contact details is critical in matters of detention. She said ICE is operating in a bureaucratic void where the laws governing processing and guaranteeing rights can be muddy or can break down, setting up a system in which detainees can “disappear” for even the most diligently searching family members and friends. The lack of transparency in holding suspected criminals is a situation ripe for abuse. There’s no check. Verbal mockery over the course of nine hours could easily escalate and who is to stop it?

‘Extremely rare cases’

When the Colorado Independent first took these concerns to Colorado ICE spokesman Tim Counts, he said on average detainees are held in the facilities for “two or three hours at the most” before being transferred to local jails.

He said detainees are provided telephone access in all of the offices, provided the opportunity to speak with the consular officials from their home countries and given a list of free or low-cost legal assistance in the area.

Another ICE spokesman, Carl Rusnok, wrote emails in January to the Independent also tamping down concerns over the subfield offices, saying that they were the product of journalists looking to sell stories.

Rusnok reiterated that suspects were held at subfield offices for up to two hours before being transferred to long-term holding facilities.

“For an alien being processed for two hours, why would it be important for the public to have access to the address or phone number? The agents should not be burdened with after-the-fact calls (or harassment calls) when the alien will be able to call his relatives/friends when he arrives at the longer-term detention facility?” Rusnok wrote.

Contacted for response to Niebla’s story, Rusnok said that in “extremely rare cases” detainees might be held for 12 hours. He said it is now ICE policy to provide suspects access for one phone call when they arrive at the subfield centers. He said they are also transferred to local county jails overnight and brought back in the morning if they cannot be transported to the central Aurora detention center over the course of any 24-hour period.

Living in America

Niebla has been living in the United States since he was seven-years-old, he is not an American citizen. He was born in Culiacán, a city in northwestern Mexico, and immigrated here illegally, coming across the border in Arizona as a child with his parents in the early 1990s. He went to public school in Basalt and hopes to attend the police academy at Colorado Mountain College. His family had all applied for visas last year. His mother and sister’s applications were accepted. His application and his father’s application were rejected. The rejected visa applications are the thing that brought the ICE officers to Niebla’s home.

Niebla has been active in working to change U.S. immigration policy for years, and it was his association through the activist group Immigration Reform that, he says, made the chapter in his life that started at the Glenwood Springs subfield office different from the stories of so many others in similar situations.

Once he got to Aurora, he called the Immigration Reform leaders, who sent out a text message to millions of members across the nation asking them to call lawmakers on Niebla’s behalf.

On April 29th, Niebla was temporarily released from the Aurora facility. He can stay one year in the country while appealing the ruling that rejected his visa.

[Photo of Edgar Niebla by Taran Volckhausen ]

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Taran Volckhausen

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