A Prisoner of Circumstance

Rachel Better never worried about her stateless status until the INS locked her up. Then it was too late.

According to Little and Friedland, Rachel should have been released by the INS under rules that were adopted in 1996 and that allow for the release of detainees with criminal convictions. When Friedland brought this to the attention of Miami INS District Director Robert Wallis, however, he claimed that the rules did not apply because Rachel may "pose a threat to the community."

"What they are saying is that they are going to keep her in jail for the rest of her life," Friedland says angrily. She has tried to persuade Wallis to change his mind, and recently sent him a copy of a note written by Guillermo Marcovici, the psychiatrist at the Monroe County Detention Center who concluded that Rachel "does not represent a danger to self/others or property at this time or ever since her incarceration." She also points out that Rachel was described as an "outstanding" inmate by the Florida Department of Corrections.

Wallis relented last week and allowed a second psychologist to examine Rachel. (She also had a mammogram in January.) Friedland and Little hope the psychologist's report will convince Wallis to release her from INS detention. Without parole or documents from a foreign consulate, Rachel will remain in jail indefinitely.

Back at the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center on Biscayne Boulevard, Little points to a row of more than 50 files lining the credenza that takes up one wall of her office. "How many other Rachel Betters are out there?" she wonders. "Joan and I have been traveling to county jails and it's another world out there. These people are thrown into a black hole. I know that Rachel's case is compelling, but there are many compelling cases. These people are locked up and forgotten."

On February 6 Rachel will have been in INS detention for one year. "It's really mean," she says on a recent morning, her reserve cracking. "I did my time in prison, and it's not my fault that I'm not able to leave the country."

"Can you imagine what would have happened to me if I had not met Cheryl and Joan?" Rachel asks. "They would have let me rot. It just hit me that if I hadn't found someone to take care of me I would have had to sit in this hole forever and ever."

Epilogue: At press time, a spokesman for the INS told New Times Rachel is being considered for parole this week.

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