A recent influx of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees into the Tulsa Jail are indeed from the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a local immigration attorney who has spoken with the inmates.
Mimi Marton, an immigration and refugee lawyer, as well as a law professor at the University of Tulsa, said she and a group of other attorneys have spent the week doing consultations for male ICE detainees recently brought to Tulsa.
Marton said some detainees appeared to be men from Cuba who traveled to Mexico then came to the border and presented themselves for asylum. Many of the other male detainees are from Central America and also appeared to have presented themselves for asylum at the border.
“Some may have crossed the border and been arrested and then asked for asylum,” Marton said. “Sometimes it can be unclear. This is really the first time we’ve ever gone and seen so many asylum seekers, in contrast to someone who was brought into the jail for traffic ticket or for a DUI or something like that.
“These are people coming into the U.S. trying to avoid pretty shocking things. The things I heard there today were pretty shocking.”
Marton said the stories from the detainees her group spoke to differed from the normal stories they hear from arrested immigrants inside the jail. Typically they are either undocumented locals arrested for primarily misdemeanor counts, or transfers from out of state jailed for similar smaller-scale crimes.
But this week has been different.
“These are stories of brutality on a level that is unusual and shocking,” she said. “We heard stories of police brutality and of police coordinating with gangs to brutalize men. We heard a lot of stories of political violence, retaliation for political opinions … those aren’t things we normal hear in (the Tulsa Jail.)”
Lack of transparency
Marton was critical of what she described as a lack of transparency from the Tulsa Jail in relation to the process of detainees being brought to the jail.
The majority of the jail population is made up of people arrested by local law enforcement for crimes against the state. That population can be easily identified in public jail records that list the dates they were received in the jail, as well as their home address, birth date, race, gender, and what crimes that specific inmate allegedly committed.
Even locally arrested undocumented immigrants on ICE holds typically have similar information publicly available.
But it is far more difficult to find identifying information on undocumented immigrants brought to the jail from out of state. Their publicly available information lists the time and date they entered the jail and the jail pod they’re being held in. It does not list where they’re from originally or where they were arrested, or even what alleged crimes led to their arrest.
“Trying to get a handle on exactly who is in the jail and where they’re from has been nearly impossible,” Marton said. “The public data that (the jail) puts out really gives you no idea who someone is or where they’re from. A lot of times that means we’re just gathering information the spot and of course since we can never see everybody, our conclusions are not a 100 percent sample.
“The numbers are real hard for us to get a handle on.”
A jail spokeswoman on Thursday told The Frontier the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, which maintains the jail, did not have information on where the inmates arrived from.
The spokeswoman, Casey Roebuck, said she didn’t “have info” on how many additional ICE inmates “we got at any certain time.”
As opposed to typical inmates arrested locally on state charges whose care is paid for by TCSO, the federal government pays the sheriff’s office $69 per day per inmate on ICE detainer. The program makes millions of dollars per year for the sheriff’s office.
Roebuck said that in May ICE approached the Tulsa Jail — one of only two facilities in Oklahoma with a contract to hold ICE detainees — and asked them to hold additional inmates for a 90-day period that will end in August.
Roebuck said that on Thursday the jail — which typically has about 200 inmates on ICE holds — had 247 inmates on an ICE detainer, a number that fluctuates sometimes daily and has reached as high as 281.
Marton said what the attorneys typically do is keep an eye on the daily report released by the TCSO that lists how many inmates are in the Tulsa Jail. If they see an influx of inmates on ICE detainers in a specific jail pod, they try to visit and assess who is in there and needs help.
Marton said the local detention officers are often extremely helpful and try to assist the detainees in meeting with immigration attorneys.
She also applauded local ICE agents who helped track down the child of a man brought to the Tulsa Jail. The man, Marton said, hadn’t seen his son in two months and had no idea where he was. However the ICE agents found the child, who was allowed to speak over the phone to the man.
“He said the child is still traumatized of course, but it was helpful that they were able to speak,” Marton said.
Languishing in jail
“The issues we’re seeing are just people languishing detained in the jail waiting for even the first step in the legal process,” Marton said. “As an attorney that’s really concerning.”
Undocumented detainees can usually be placed into one of two groups — those who have presented themselves for asylum and those who have not.
The first step, she said, is a “credible fear interview,” where an undocumented inmate will attempt to demonstrate that they have a “credible fear” of returning to their home country. Passing that step means that inmate cannot be deported until their asylum case is processed.
But Marton said several of the detainees they’ve spoken with have spent months without even reaching that interview.
“If they don’t have an asylum claim, if there’s no right for them to be in the U.S., then do the review and deport them,” she said. “But one guy has been languishing in the jail since March, so that’s three months just sitting there waiting to be interviewed. The idea of people sitting in jail for months and not having any interview is disturbing from a due process standpoint.”
Marton said her group returned to the jail on Friday, and hopes to go back next week to meet with new female detainees.