This post was written by Smitty Smith. Smitty is a retired bilingual teacher and active volunteer with CIVIC, an immigration advocacy and support network. Smitty ran a CrowdDefend campaign to raise funds for Adán’s immigration bond.
Adán de Jesús Lima-Hernández was released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody in Richmond, CA on Wednesday, January 28th. The CrowdDefend campaign for his bond raised $2,250 in 7 days from 55 individuals.
Free at Last!
Although I had told Adán that we were actively fundraising for his bond, he had no idea that the bond had been posted until 1-2 hours before his release. When I first saw him post-release, he came over, gave me a big hug, and thanked me over-and over-again. As you can imagine, he was all smiles.
Soon after his release I showed him the CrowdDefend website where we raised the funds to pay his immigration bond. He was pleasantly surprised by the generosity of the 55 people who contributed to his cause.
Adán was overjoyed at experiencing his first day of freedom in this country. When we got to my car, outside of the detention center, I lent him a down vest and gave him some shoelaces (which are always taken from detainees at that jail). Then I lent him my phone to call his grandmother in Guatemala. He promised her that he would avoid bad company and do his best to make the most of his time here.
Our first stop, after the detention center, was a McDonald’s where he consumed a quarter pounder with cheese meal. We then set out to meet CIVIC co-founder, Christina Mansfield, who is the obligator on his immigration bond. As we crossed over the Bay Bridge, he marveled at the fact that it was his first time traveling to San Francisco without being shackled hand and foot, which was how ICE took him to immigration court. As we drove around San Francisco we began practicing English words and phrases, which we continued to do throughout the day.
Later that night I took him to the Fruitvale district of Oakland where a Guatemalan woman, Blanca, and her family are giving him room and board until he finds a job. His room is modest, but private. I admonished him to volunteer to help out with the chores.
Day Two of Freedom
On Thursday I picked Adán up to take him to San Francisco. He said that he had hardly slept all night thinking about his freedom and his life ahead. We went to the ICE office downtown to pick up his belongings, mostly clothing and shoes, which were given to him when he was at the children’s shelter. When we got to the Federal Building at 630 Sansome Street, he was not allowed through security because he had no identification, even though I had a copy of his bond documents. He had to stand on the sidewalk outside while I took his property receipt and a receipt for $49 that ICE had taken from him when he was transferred into their custody. After about an hour an ICE officer came back with his belongings, but not the money. I asked her to at least return the receipt, but she said she couldn’t do that. Supposedly the money had been deposited into his account at the jail. Adán said that that was the last place in the world he wanted to return to and that we should drop it. I, personally, think he was robbed.
We then headed to Berkeley to get Adán a cell phone. We agreed that he needed one to stay in touch with his attorneys and potential employers. I got him an inexpensive ($69) Samsung with unlimited calls, text and data with no contract for $40 a month. He wanted the phone to be in English, so it would aid in his learning of the language. Most things about a smartphone are new to Adán; I got him set up with an email address, an address book (so he can initiate calls and messages), and Pandora. He had some ear buds among his belongings and I showed him how to search for music he likes. A teenager with unlimited music – he was in heaven!
Life Before Bond
Over the last couple of days I got to know a lot more about Adán. In Guatemala he had been an eyewitness to his mother’s murder when he was five. She owed a small store and didn’t have enough money to pay the gang’s extortion demands, so they shot her in the head on the spot – in front of him.
In late 2013, when he was 17, members of a drug gang tried to recruit Adán but he consistently refused. Given Adán’s refusal, the gang slit his throat, stabbed him in the ribs, inflicted a huge slash from his lower abdomen up to the middle of his chest, and left him for dead. Bystanders called the fire department, and he was rushed to a hospital where he miraculously survived.
As soon as he was strong enough, Adán rode the freight trains known as La Bestia (the Beast) across Mexico for nearly a month to get to the United States. He tells of people being assaulted, robbed, raped, falling off, losing limbs etc. on the treacherous journey here. Like many other unaccompanied minors traveling from Central American, Adán surrendered to the Border Patrol in Calexico, CA and asked for asylum. He was immediately put in a hielera (icebox) for eight days. These are concrete holding cells where detainees sleep on the cold floor without blankets and get almost nothing to eat. One intention, perhaps, is to break people down so they sign a voluntary deportation.
Since he was a minor, the Border Patrol turned him over to BCFS (associated with the Department of Health and Human Services). Under BCFS’s custody he was flown from one end of the country to another as they tried to find him an appropriate shelter. He was shuttled from Texas to New Jersey and finally back to California where BCFS placed him in the shelter in Solano County, CA.
Adán recalls the shelter in Solano County feeling like a home, with a classroom and a spacious soccer field. The shelter, which is run by the Solano County Office of Education, provides unaccompanied minors, like Adán, with basic schooling and a supportive environment. Adán said that he met a lot of good people there.
When he turned 18 this past October, he was turned over to ICE, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, and put into the West County Detention Facility (or Coco, as it’s called) in Richmond, a county jail that is contracted by ICE. While he was in detention there, he also worked, first in the kitchen, later in the laundry. He was not paid, but got to eat the food the guards ate, which was much better than the regular fare. When asked about the distinctions between BCFS and ICE I think he would say that BCFS nurtures and ICE imprisons.
Now that Adán has been released from detention, his immigration proceedings will continue. Often, in cases such as his, counsel will request one or multiple forms of relief from the court and/or government, which would allow the unaccompanied minor undocumented immigrant to legally remain in the United States. These may include applying for asylum or “special immigrant juveniles” status, or requesting that the government refrain from exercising its ability to remove the immigrant from the country, among other options. Each path often requires many months of proceedings and waiting while the court or government department renders a decision.
There was a time not so long ago when the US treated people fleeing war and violence with much more dignity and compassion. I have friends who were undocumented asylum applicants from Central America back in the 1980’s. They were neither jailed nor required to pay a bond, but rather were given a social security number and work authorization, and thus were able to work and lead a productive life during the years their cases were before the courts. I even had one friend who graduated from San Jose State University before winning his case. I fear our addiction to incarceration is punishing many innocent victims.
For the time being, Adán has the basics. Aside from the clothing items we picked up from ICE, we bought him a few other essentials. He’ll continue to receive room and board at Blanca’s until he finds work. A few friends have already started offering him work, nothing steady though – a day here and a day there.
Thank you again to those who helped Adán regain his freedom! Here is a special message (in Spanish) from Adán:
Translation: Hello. Good afternoon. My name is Adan Lima Hernandez. Through this video, I want to thank everyone that helped me leave and those that helped me pay my legal costs. Thank you so much! I am very happy thanks to you all and God for giving me this opportunity. I am going to take advantage [of this opportunity] and continue forwards to achieve my dreams now that I am here.