As non-citizens or residents, immigrants in US detention centers are not afforded the basic rights and accommodations that are supposed to be provided to regular prisoners. Samuel’s case is revealing.


Samuel Oliver-Bruno left sanctuary at CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham North Carolina on a chilly morning the day after Thanksgiving for a scheduled biometrics screening at the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Service) office in the adjacent community of Morrisville.


A biometrics appointment is supposed to be a routine event wherein an immigrant formally provides fingerprints for a background check as part of their residency process. Samuel had been living for the past 11 months in the church as he attempted to negotiate with the federal government and be allowed to continue living in the United States, where he has resided for 22 years with his now-ailing wife and 19 year-old son.


Returning from a trip to care for his dying father in Mexico in 2014 led to an arrest for “illegal entry” and a deportation order. Two months later, he was granted a stay of deportation and his case has been in appeal since then.


Experience has taught his church and supporters to be wary of what used to be routine appointments. DHS (Department of Homeland Security) oversees USCIS as well as two policing arms, CBP (Customs & Border Patrol) and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).


ICE has often publicized how it uses letters and invitations as ruses to bring people in to arrest them. This time, the pastor of CityWell, fellow congregants, Samuel’s son Daniel, his lawyers, supporters from AlertaMigratoriaNC, members of the press and a crowded USCIS waiting room full of other immigrants including small children were present to witness and photograph multiple men in plain clothes tackle a 47 year old with diabetes who hasn’t been outside for nearly a year to the ground.


Samuel was removed to a DHS vehicle to be transported out of the area, but his supporters decided to link arms and surround the car. The Morrisville Police Department arrived in minutes and arrested 27 people, some quite forcibly, as well as Daniel, a U.S. citizen, who was accused of assaulting an officer when he tried to embrace his father and say good-bye.


ICE representative Bryan Cox issued a statement calling Samuel “a convicted criminal … [who] has no legal basis to remain in the United States.” Samuel has no criminal convictions.  The Supreme Court reiterated in Arizona v. United States in 2010 that living in the United States without proper documentation is not a crime.


Using improper documentation is not a crime per se. These are civil matters, and the dysfunctional state of U.S. immigration policy has left millions of people without having their residency resolved.


Samuel hasn’t been tried and convicted of any crime. He hasn’t been on trial; he hasn’t defended his case before a jury. A judge hasn’t pronounced a sentence. A civilian offense warrants a penalty, not a punishment. In immigration matters, the penalty could be deportation, for a crime the punishment could be incarceration.


Samuel is not being deported for the time being. He is on the way to Stewart Detention Facility in Lumpkin, Georgia. Stewart is run by a for-profit company, CCA – Corrections Corporation of America, which is “rebranding” itself as CoreCivic. Another Durham resident, Wildin Acosta, recounted how when he was held as a teen in Stewart, there were maggots in the food.


As non-citizens or residents, immigrants in U.S. detention centers are not afforded the basic rights and accommodations that are supposed to be provided to regular prisoners. With no “right to see a lawyer,” no “speedy trial,” immigrants can be kept indefinitely in private prisons that bill the government with seemingly no oversight as to the conditions they provide.


CCA-CoreCivic has previously failed state audits, including for the conditions it provides its own employees, while its stock yields a high 7-8% dividend.


ICE seems to no longer observe its earlier promise to avoid “sensitive areas” when making arrests. A USCIS letter can be false. Local police departments are collaborating with ICE. Being “low risk” doesn’t matter, in fact being a child or infirm seems to make one a target, as does following the rules.


But really the policies and laws haven’t changed so much as they are being applied selectively and with prejudice to race, ethnicity and class.


A billionaire’s wife revealed that she used a tourist visa to work and gain residency, but she, her sister and parents are now citizens. Samuel is a well-regarded and long-standing member of the community, a blood relative of a U.S. citizen, care-taker to a resident spouse suffering from major organ damage and a child who is still a student, has no prior trouble with the law, and is an asylum-seeker who faced death threats in Veracruz, an area so dangerous recent caravaners from Honduras took a wide detour to avoid it. He has not concealed his whereabouts to the authorities and has attended his immigration meetings.


Videos and photos from the scene on Friday can be viewed at AlertamigratoriaNC’s Facebook page and have been reproduced by news outlets in the U.S. and abroad, such as the Associated Press (AP) and The Guardian. Samuel’s story can be read at


27 November 2018


This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence.