Cleaning Up Krome

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

Stubbs insists he welcomes Fassnacht and Taeuber, but cautions they must have patience. "They are almost part of us by being in here," he remarks. "Nothing will get ignored, just give us fairness."

The count takes an hour and a half. Before it's finished, Fassnacht has given up and decided to drive home. She knows she will talk with Dhine again tomorrow.

Fassnacht's partner in the project, 32-year-old Stacy Taeuber, has been absent from Krome lately. Despite her Georgetown law degree, she has performed tasks better suited to a social worker while helping a Mexican immigrant fight deportation. Daniel Cardonia entered the United States illegally in 1979. The 36-year-old left a small village in the Mexican state of Guanajuato to work in the groves and vegetable fields of Florida. Like millions of other immigrants, he sent as much as half of his paycheck home each year.

In 1990 a police officer caught Cardonia and some other farm workers rolling a marijuana cigarette in Collier County. A judge convicted Cardonia of possessing under twenty grams of marijuana and released him on probation. After new legislation passed six years later, his drug conviction meant mandatory detention.

Then Daniel Cardonia contracted AIDS. In 1998 his kidneys failed. He sought treatment at the Florida Hospital Heartland Medical Center in Sebring. When he couldn't pay the $54,532.75 bill for his care, a hospital administrator called the INS and he was removed from his sick bed and sent to Krome. He is deportable on several grounds: He has a drug conviction, he entered the country illegally, he has a communicable disease, and he is a public charge. He will surely die much more quickly if he is returned to Mexico, Taeuber says.

It's Wednesday of the same week and Taeuber is at the office of the South Florida AIDS Network at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Though she knows Cardonia was transferred to a hospital the day before, she doesn't know which one.

Finally she tracks him down. He is in a room in Jackson's north wing with two armed INS guards posted outside. A sign on the door cautions visitors to wash their hands before they enter and leave. Inside lies a frail Cardonia, his arms covered in tattoos. A wispy beard hangs from his chin. His upper body is covered in hives that itch unbearably, he says. He lost his left pinkie after a wasp stung him a few years ago. His battered immune system was unable to stop an infection and gangrene set in. He complains of fevers and chills. "I've never seen anyone who is dying before," says Taeuber. "I still can't believe the hospital turned him in and that the INS is trying to deport him."

She recently won a humanitarian parole for Cardonia, which means he can live outside Krome while appealing his deportation order. She has no time to savor the victory. There are still many bureaucratic hurdles to clear while she looks for a program to take him.

Recently a group of Africans from Kenya, Togo, and South Africa visited the United States to gain insight on detention of immigrants and refugees. The INS provided a guided tour of Krome. The delegation didn't speak with inmates, but a guide called Krome a top-of-the-line facility renowned for its medical care and efficiency. The next day Fassnacht and other immigration lawyers told the group a different story. The attorneys described INS's arbitrary and nonsensical policies. They painted Krome as a place where investigations into abuse rarely lead to the truth and where there is no process for resolving grievances.

It is clear from listening to the Africans that Krome still compares favorably to immigrant detention facilities in their home countries. In some African nations refugee policy seems to consist of placing everyone in a camp run by the United Nations and leaving them there until conditions stabilize. Still, delegation members express uneasiness over the new trend in U.S. immigration policy. "What we are getting from you is that many of your laws are very punitive and it's scary," says David Nganga Kamau, a church official from Kenya.

Kamau also found similarities between U.N. and INS officials. "They have a great deal of power. They can do whatever they want." It is important to have outside observers, he concludes. "When it is just left to one institution, you can have all kinds of abuses."

During Thanksgiving week the INS allows Cardonia to leave the hospital for a Catholic AIDS hospice called Genesis. Taeuber bristles at the idea that the release is a victory: "This is not a success story. The INS still wants to deport him and he is going to die a gruesome death."

She also gives notice to CLINIC that she is leaving Krome to work at the immigration project in Arizona. CLINIC is advertising for a replacement.

Dhine continues to fight his deportation and has yet to undergo the back surgery that landed him in Krome. His latest campaign was to be allowed to light a candle for each day of Hanukkah.

FIAC has asked Physicians for Human Rights to launch an investigation into the death of Ashley Anderson and the conditions at the Krome clinics.

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