A 24-year-old Guatemalan mother of three named Maria was held behind bars in the Martin County Jail earlier this year before Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents transferred her to the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Her crime? Voluntarily paying a $150 traffic fine while being undocumented.
As first reported by the Miami New Times, Maria was handcuffed and thrown in jail for the fine, even though she had paid a $750 bond to leave. The facility kept her money and kept her behind bars until ICE arrived.
As ThinkProgress reported in 2017, local jails can sign a contract with ICE to hold detainees in their facilities for the federal agency: while jailed people should be released after a certain period of time, under these agreements, they can then be “re-booked” into the same jail, awaiting pickup by ICE. It’s not immediately clear whether the Martin County Jail has such an agreement with ICE.
“I am not a criminal,” Maria told New Times. “I have cleaned boats and homes. I have worked hard doing jobs that no one wants to do.”
Police in Martin County let Maria go after fining her for driving without a proper license and she decided on her own to show up and pay the fine.
“I wanted to to make this alright with the law,” she said. “I went to present myself and straighten this out.”
Now she only gets to see her children once each week and is worried for her 9 year old, who was once held in federal custody for three weeks after crossing the border unaccompanied and now fears even visiting her at the detention center for fear of being detained again.
“They give me 60 to 90 minutes one time a week with my kids,” Maria told the New Times. “Imagine. I am their mother! That is very little time. They cry. They sob. ‘Mami vamos,’ they say. The nine year old is scared she will be detained. She comes to visit me, but she is waiting to to be arrested. She says ‘Mami, I don’t want to go back into detention.'”
Maria fled dangerous conditions in Guatemala six years ago with her first-born child. They first lived in Chicago, where Maria worked manual-labor jobs. According to her attorney, she was in the process of applying for legal residency when she missed a court date because she went into labor. She eventually relocated her family to Florida after being reunited with her child.
Now she remains behind bars at the Broward Transitional Center, where some guards are professional but others, according to Maria, refuse to speak with her in Spanish, or they lie to her about the facility’s commissary being out of basic necessities like soap.
A few months ago, ThinkProgress reported on an undocumented mother also held at Broward Transitional Center. Like Maria, “Mary Caceres” (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) had missed a court date due to factors out of her control; her immigration attorney had committed suicide and she wasn’t informed of her next check-in date. Like Maria, she did not have a criminal record and appeared voluntarily before law enforcement officials to make sure she was complying with the law. After being transported to four different facilities, without the ability to shower or even brush her teeth, Carceres was ultimately placed at the Broward Transitional Center. According to Carceres’ daughter, she was deported back to Colombia last month, after 13 years of living in the U.S.
The Broward Transitional Center has been a target of immigration rights advocates in south Florida.
It’s a privately owned, “low-level” facility for immigrants who have committed no crimes at all, or minor crimes like traffic offenses. The facility has been targeted by #AbolishICE protesters for profiting off of family separation by detaining and deporting undocumented individuals that have committed nonviolent offenses like traffic violations — or no crimes whatsoever.
We are at the Broward Transitional Center, a private immigration detention center owned by GEO Group. Creating a profit incentive for imprisoning people and keeping them imprisoned is immoral. We call on all elected officials and candidates in FL to reject private prison money. pic.twitter.com/LZTk4ZFISO
— Tomas Kennedy (@tomaskenn) June 28, 2018
Several protesters were arrested last week for blocking access to the facility.