One day in the spring of 2019, a young Honduran man in a detention center in Ferriday, La., began to feel strange. He’d recently heard from his lawyers that his request to be released on humanitarian parole while his asylum case was pending had been denied. As he swayed on his feet, his skin breaking out into hives, he suspected that the stress of facing more time in a prison cell had brought on a panic attack.
Then his symptoms intensified. His throat closed up, and he could barely catch his breath. His roommate tried to soothe him, but M., whom I am identifying only by his first initial because of death threats he has received in Honduras, lost consciousness and was taken to the local rural hospital, where he received treatment for anaphylactic shock. Over the next several months, he would go into shock twice more. The doctors never isolated the cause.
M.’s lawyers helped him file for parole yet again. “He needs a full medical evaluation and physical therapy to fully recover from his injuries,” they wrote; his release was “the only humanitarian course of action.” But an immigration officer rejected the request, calling M. a flight risk even though he had no criminal record and a friend willing to sponsor his release, assuming the responsibility for getting him to court.
Right now, more than 25,000 immigrants are imprisoned in U.S. detention facilities, with thousands more waiting in Mexico for the chance to cross — at which point most will be summarily locked up. It’s a policy of deterrence by detention: to make life so unpleasant that immigrants opt to go home on their own accord, or never come at all.