Cleaning Up Krome

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

"What bothers me the most is you are kept in the dark," Miljour says. "If somebody told me when I could leave, I would have something to look forward to. But everything stays in the dark. Stomach stays in the dark. Mind stays in the dark. Feelings stay in the dark. Thoughts stay in the dark."

Miljour is detained in Building Eight, which has space for several hundred people in six rooms called pods. The building was inaugurated in April 1998, five months before Stubbs arrived, as the first step to a better Krome. INS District Director Wallis called it "a place that is modern, clean, safe and, most importantly, humane," according to the Miami Herald.

But the building has become a focus of complaints. "There is no privacy," says Miljour. "It is just one big room." He frets that the air is stifling and unhealthy. While watching television, inmates can see whomever is in the shower or on the toilet, he says. "When someone goes to the bathroom, everyone in the dorm yells, 'Flush it! Flush it!'" says another prisoner.

Miljour says he learned about Fassnacht and Taeuber from a fellow inmate. After Fassnacht meets with Miljour, she contacts his deportation officer and obtains the correct forms. Eleven days after arriving in Florida, Miljour finally goes home. His girlfriend has already departed. "I can't wait," he says on the day before he is set to leave. "I want to put it behind me. I still can't figure out exactly why I am here. Back in Canada you would never see this happening."

Fassnacht's day is winding to a close. But before leaving she first must meet with five Guyanese youths who are requesting asylum. After about two weeks in Krome, one of them saw the lawyers' names on a social services list by the dorm phone and called. "[Fassnacht] told us she'd try her best to defend us. She helped find out about our situation and we put in for [asylum]," says one. A ringing telephone interrupts the conversation about every two minutes. Fassnacht is putting out fires. At one point she asks if anyone knows how to say "tomorrow" in Creole. She offers advice when she can and sets up appointments. At rushed times during the day she often talks on two phones at once. "Every time you turn around, somebody needs your help," she explains.

Dhine wheels into view in a nearby doorway. He is still furious about Anderson's death. "He was treated like a dog and he died like a dog," Dhine shouts. Fassnacht is not going to escape blame. "He was neglected legally also," Dhine continues. "This is my darkest day. How long have I been complaining about this? What happened is wrong," he says. Fassnacht puts her head in her hands.

She decides to talk with Dhine once more and a guard lets her into the camp's interior. Her office, like all the attorney visitation booths, is not wheelchair accessible. (Neither is Building Eight). Before Fassnacht can talk with Dhine privately, the 6:00 p.m. count begins. The Krome population isn't supposed to exceed 400, but it has numbered close to 500 in the past. Inmates are counted at least three times daily. Today, as is often the case, officials can't reach a number that corresponds to the recorded population. They repeat the census again and again.

Guards openly joke about the ridiculous nature of working at Krome. Employee discontent is high and morale low. The guards frequently work twelve-hour shifts with only two fifteen-minute breaks, forcing them sometimes to choose between going to the bathroom or eating lunch. At one point during the day, a guard bemoans the fact that Hurricane Andrew didn't destroy the facility. Stubbs's harshest critics may actually be the Krome guards. In recent years they have been burned by the uncomfortably quick succession of supervisors. Long hours, stressful work, disputes with management, and ever-changing policies have bred distrust. During the count Stubbs passes through the hallway. Asked how it's going, he jokes, "I was 33 when I took this job, I'm 46 now."

Dhine talks to Fassnacht in a voice that is loud enough for the OIC to overhear. "I bring everything into the open because I can't go to court to defend myself," he says. "I have a lot of respect for Mr. Stubbs, but he has to change [the clinic]."

"We are working on it," Stubbs replies, in what has become both a stock phrase and a mantra.

Fassnacht observes that Stubbs has a good sense of humor and that he will need it. He also seems to be that rare combination, she says: a tough administrator who is also compassionate. "Sometimes when you talk to [INS officials about inmate problems], you get a blank stare, like the detainees aren't human," she contends. "It seems like Stubbs understands they are human."

Even inmates note a change in the guards' demeanors. "A lot of these officers are trying to be nice since Mr. Stubbs comes," remarks one Jamaican awaiting deportation.

"What we have tried to do is have [staff] be more responsive," Stubbs says. "To raise the performance bar -- that will take time. This is virgin territory as far as implementing policy and procedures that make sense."

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