Steven, A Diabetic Pastor From Uganda Facing Deportation, Is Fighting For His Life

Update June 25, 2020: Via Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley:


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Attorneys representing Steven, a severely diabetic Ugandan pastor detained in Los Fresnos, Texas are fighting against a final order of removal issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would send him back to his home country, where he faces certain death. In a press release published on Wednesday, Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley reported that officials in Uganda got word of the young pastor’s imminent deportation, assumed he had already returned, and “took immediate action”. 

“His sister was attacked and beaten so badly she was hospitalized with head injuries. There was a barrage of threats and intimidation against his family and friends. A Ugandan official risked her own safety to write and confirm not only Steven’s past torture, but the fact that as soon as he steps off the plane in Uganda, he will be taken away by security officers and killed. He would never arrive at the customs gate at all,” the coalition wrote.

Steven fled Uganda in fear of his life after when Ugandan officials began targeting him for pursuing human rights work, including assistance to political prisoners in Ugandan jails and voting rights work. According to attorney Jennifer Harbury, officials cut off two of his fingers and dripped melting plastic bags onto his shins during torture sessions, finally forcing the pastor and his supporters to flee the country. In December 2018, Steven requested asylum legally at a port of entry in Brownsville, Texas, and was detained at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, where his attorneys allege his diabetes has gone practically untreated. Steven is under 40 and is already blind in one eye as a result of his condition, has painful boils covering his body, and would be in extreme danger if he were to contract COVID-19. “In detention, Steven was given inadequate medication for his diabetes, and tested only ever three months. He was given no proper diet. As his immune system weakened, he developed painful boils. By January 2020 his glucose reached extreme levels, placing him at risk of a coma or worse. Cataracts have left him near blind, but no surgery has been provided. In short, the conditions of his detention have broken his health,” wrote the Tias in the press release.

Steven was denied asylum even though the same judge granted asylum to one of his supporters, the Tias wrote. Attorneys filed an appeal to the Fifth Circuit with a motion for a stay of removal, which was denied on June 16, prompting ICE to issue a final order of deportation. Attorney Cathy Potter’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed on Steven’s behalf was denied by a federal judge in Brownsville early this month, and the same was the case for various motions to reconsider. Under the final order of removal, Steven is scheduled for deportation in early July. Attorneys found this out through ongoing proceedings, as the Board of Immigration Appeals confirmed this week it would finally adjudicate a motion for a stay filed on the pastor’s behalf. 

Harbury, alongside Potter and fellow attorney Lisa Brodyaga, has fought for months to get Steven released from PIDC due to his severe condition and the extreme risk of serious illness if he were to become infected with coronavirus. As of Wednesday, ICE reported a total of 61 positive COVID-19 cases among detainees. 25 of those detainees were under isolation or monitoring, according to ICE’s website. Both attorneys and elected officials have decried the alleged lack of preventative measures taken against the virus at PIDC, citing failure to properly enforce mask policies among guards, failure to provide adequate PPE and cleaning supplies to detainees packed into crowded dormitories, and retaliation against detainees who speak out against conditions.

U.S. Rep Filemon Vela penned two letters to ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence this month citing reports from detainees inside the facility and their attorneys alleging improper treatment and failure to adhere to CDC-recommended protocols and ICE’s own published guidance. In early June, Harbury filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General detailing concerns from detainees, advocates, and attorneys indicating those detained in PIDC are in danger. Reports from inside the facility in recent weeks detailed hundreds of detainees under quarantine and two mass hunger strikes organized by those afraid of becoming infected. Detainees were reporting likely cases to advocates long before ICE confirmed the now steadily rising count of positives inside PIDC.

Attorney Cathy Potter said it appeared ICE this week began enforcing the mask policy inside the El Valle Detention Center in Raymondville. She visited the facility on Friday and saw multiple violations of that policy. Upon returning several days later, staff was enforcing the mask policy with temperature checks. Whether detainees are being provided adequate cleaning supplies in their dormitories is still a matter of concern. While the facility population may be down, detainees are still sleeping within six feet of each other, she said. “They’re getting soap. But, the detainees are saying that they’re back to the two small bottles — like hotel room sized bottles of shampoo. They can clean the toilets twice a day.”