Cleaning Up Krome

Lawyers Tina Fassnacht and Stacy Taeuber are all-purpose advocates at the West Dade immigrant camp

It took Fassnacht and Taeuber almost six months to obtain the space. INS officials in Washington were willing to give them what they needed, but those in the district were slow to accept the women, the lawyers contend. INS spokesman Andrew Lluberes asserts the project was endorsed at every level. "It was start to finish a cooperative and coordinated effort that all three parties, if you will, the Office of International Affairs [in Washington, D.C.], the region [based in Vermont], and the district worked on to make happen," Lluberes says.

But in the beginning the two women carried their files, law books, and equipment in the trunks of their cars. They set up shop in the detention center's lobby and hoped like hell that the largest of four attorney visitation rooms would become available. Otherwise they would be crammed into a closetlike room even smaller than their current space. Sometimes, if a detainee did not speak English, the women brought in an interpreter and they would all pile into the tiny quarters.

According to the lawyers some Krome administrators showed their displeasure. The women's requests to plug in their computers and fax machines, as well as operate cell phones, were initially rejected as security risks. In the beginning the INS even sometimes restricted their access to clients, the lawyers remember. Officers would take up to eight hours to bring a client to the visitation room, or falsely declare the person was not at Krome, a practice that has since ended. Interpreters who charged between $50 and $100 per hour often waited during the delays, depleting scarce funds. (The Ford Foundation ponied up $75,000 in the project's first year and $50,000 in the second. A two-year grant of $100,000 from the Florida Bar Foundation pays for Fleurimond.)

To understand the INS one must think counterintuitively, the lawyers say. A perfect example is a Canadian client Fassnacht speaks to after she finishes with Dhine. Paul Miljour sits in an attorney visitation room at Krome, fidgeting in his orange uniform. The 37-year-old is clean-shaven with stringy blond hair that falls around his reddish face. His blue eyes dart about the attorney's room with the nervous energy of a caged animal.

This is not what Miljour expected. A couple of months ago his girlfriend Amy Fecteau bowled the best in her league back in Ottawa and won an all-expenses-paid vacation for two to Fort Lauderdale. "She's a super girl," he says proudly.

Miljour wasn't sure whether he was eligible to enter the United States. "I'm not a saint," he admits. Miljour was convicted in Canada of robbery, possession of stolen property, and other crimes. He was sentenced to one year, but served three months in a halfway house. Until he arrived at Krome on November 14, he drove a van for schoolchildren in the morning and made deliveries in the afternoon. When he boarded an airplane for South Florida, he had no idea of the consequences. "I got excited on flying for the first time. It felt good. Now I can't wait to get back on an airplane."

Indeed, Miljour's one-year sentence made him ineligible for admission to the United States. He also showed up on the Interpol system as wanted by the Canadian government, says INS spokesman Dan Kane. (Kane contends he was wanted for "document fraud." Miljour asserts that's false.) But instead of returning him immediately, the INS sent him to Krome. Miljour even signed a document accepting voluntary deportation. "I don't know why they kept me," he says. "I thought they would just put me on a plane."

Despite recent immigration legislation that allows for immediate deportation in some cases, Kane says such action is sometimes delayed. "Expedited removal does not mean we are going to put you on Air Canada two hours later," he says. Moreover, recent law changes have dramatically altered the legal landscape for immigrants and foreign visitors. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 gives wide discretion to the INS to reject visitors to the United States, even if they have valid visas. There is no appeal. Along with the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of the same year, this law defines a wide gamut of offenses, including past crimes, as grounds for deportation. The result has been a dramatic increase in detention rates. Between fiscal years 1995 and 1998, the average number of people held by the INS each day increased from 6600 to about 16,000. To deal with the influx the government now warehouses more than 50 percent of detainees in county jails.

It's day five of Miljour's detention at Krome. He fears a prolonged absence will cost him his job. To make matters worse, he has tried on three occasions to talk to his assigned deportation officer, but received no response. "I'll sign any forms," he pleads. "I give my right and left hand that I will never come back." (Kane says Miljour had probably been placed in line for a hearing with an immigration judge.)

Uncertainty about status disturbs many Krome detainees. A strategy used at an INS detention center in Florence, Arizona, seems to have successfully tackled the problem of educating inmates. There, pro bono attorneys and others work in cooperation with INS officials. The project is somewhat similar to Krome's, but the attorneys in Arizona give presentations about inmates' rights to all new arrivals.

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