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Exclusive: Sickened by Gangrene in Utah Immigration Jail, Guatemalan Father Now Faces Deportation

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In a Democracy Now! exclusive, we look at the case of an undocumented Guatemalan national previously sickened in an immigration jail and now detained in the latest round of controversial raids. Ángel Rosa is recovering from a gangrene infection of his scrotum, which he says began while he was held in a detention center in Utah. Rosa’s family says he faces almost certain death if he is deported despite a request for humanitarian relief. We are joined by three guests: Rosa’s daughter, Lorena Rosa, an 18-year-old high school senior who has played a key role in nursing her father back to health; Mark Reid, senior paralegal at the Thomas Rome Law Group in Hartford, Connecticut, who has helped Rosa’s family with his immigration and asylum claims, and played a role in stopping his deportation so far; and Renée Feltz, Democracy Now! criminal justice correspondent and former producer, who has spent more than a decade reporting on immigrant detention centers.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to the case of an undocumented immigrant who faces deportation after, he says, he suffered a gangrene infection of his scrotum while held in a filthy cell in a detention center in Utah. Democracy Now! first learned about the case of Ángel Rosa when he was detained this past Friday by armed federal agents at his home in Hyrum, Utah. Rosa is a 55-year-old father of four U.S.-born children and [has] six U.S.-born grandchildren. His arrest came amid nationwide raids, mostly targeting Central American immigrants for deportation.

Since then, here’s what we’ve confirmed. Rosa first came to the United States in the mid-1980s and has entered without permission at least three times. In 2012, he was charged with a criminal offense for illegal entry. He appears to have been targeted in part because he had a decade-old criminal record for assaulting a minor, his son, during an incident in which, his family says, the prescription medication Rosa was taking reacted badly with alcohol, and the police were called. Since then, they say, he’s been a sober and loving father.

AMY GOODMAN: After Ángel Rosa pled guilty and was convicted of illegal re-entry in 2012, he ended up in the Utah County Jail, just south of Salt Lake City in Spanish Fork. The facility has a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. In December 2014, Ángel Rosa says, guards put him in a cell with a broken toilet that overflowed with feces, and didn’t allow him to shower. He says he was then placed in solitary confinement as punishment for the broken toilet. At some point during this time, he says, he caught an infection known as Fournier’s gangrene. It began in his testicles. Left untreated, it eventually caused Rosa’s rectum to swell shut, and his intestines became infected. Rosa does not speak English, and his family says it was only after another inmate, who did speak English, told a guard about Rosa’s urgent medical situation that he was examined and taken to an outside hospital. Rosa says he was told to sign documentation so that, if needed, doctors could surgically remove his testes. Ultimately, he was not castrated, but he says he was left sterile and placed on antibiotics and other medicine.

Too sick to remain in detention, he was released under terms that included regular check-ins with immigration authorities and for him to wear an electronic monitoring device on his ankle. For the past year, he says, he’s tried to comply with these conditions, but authorities disagreed. And this past Friday, Rosa was taken back into detention. He is now appealing his pending deportation from jail. The doctor who treated him for gangrene has submitted a letter to ICE that suggests he’s not fit for travel.

For more, we’re joined by three guests. In Salt Lake City, Utah, Lorena Rosa is with us. She’s Ángel Rosa’s daughter. She is an 18-year-old high school senior and has played a key role in nursing her father back to health. She got permission to do homeschooling when her father needed the most attention during his recovery. Every other Friday for the past year, she says, she drove him to his regular check-ins with his immigration officer.

Also joining us, from Hartford, Connecticut, is Mark Reid. Senior paralegal at the Thomas Rome Law Group in Hartford, Connecticut, he’s been helping Ángel Rosa’s family with his immigration and asylum claims, and played a key role in stopping the deportation so far. Reid is a legal permanent resident of the United States, originally from Jamaica. In 2014, he successfully won his own release from detention.

And with us in New York is Renée Feltz, Democracy Now! criminal justice correspondent, former producer, has spent more than a decade reporting on immigrant detention centers and is the first to report on Ángel Rosa’s allegations that he contracted gangrene on his scrotum while in detention and is now facing deportation.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s go to Salt Lake City first to Lorena. Thank you so much for joining us, for taking this time. Lorena, talk about what happened on Friday.

LORENA ROSA: On Friday, I go to Cache High, and I got out of school early. And I was just barely getting home. I came in. I saw my dad getting out of the shower. He was washing the dishes, getting ready to drink his coffee. I went into my room, and out of nowhere, I heard a big bang bursting, opening the door, and I saw my dad running into the living room. And I heard him calling my name. And I ran into the kitchen, and I saw them handcuffing my dad, with shields and guns surrounding the whole trailer. And I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. And I was asking them, “What’s going on?” They’re like, “Your dad is under arrest.” I was like, “Why?” And they’re like, “We can’t give you any of that information. If you want that information, go to court and ask for them.” And I asked them, “Where are you taking him?” And they said, “In a jail nearby.” And they didn’t even know the address, so I had to call my lawyer to see where he was exactly. And after that, they just finished surrounding the house, and they came in to check who was in the house. And I asked them, I was like, “What kind of permission do you have to come into my house just like this?” And they told me, “If you want to see the report,” to call the court, and they’ll let me see it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lorena, you have been assisting your father now, ever since he was released. Could you talk about the experiences you’ve had during the time he’s been released, from the time he got ill?

LORENA ROSA: When he got ill, it was a horrible experience for a teen my age. I was a junior, that time. He had a lot of doctors’ appointments, a lot of nurses, that he had to go through. And so, I asked permission to be homeschooled for just one tri, so I would be available for him to take him to all those doctors’ appointments. And he had a nurse come in every other day that he didn’t have a doctor’s appointment. It was a really rough time, because it was hard for him. He was so terrorized that it was hard for him to eat. His sugar was high. He would always look so pale, and he would be fainting couple of times. He would be in emergency rooms, Instacare. And it was a really tough time for me and my family.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he was released, Lorena, so he could deal with the gangrene. We have the photographs. We won’t show them. They are so horrific. Can you describe what his recovery has been like and what you think will happen if he is deported?

LORENA ROSA: His infection was horrible. And ever since he had that surgery, he hasn’t been the same. His—anything that upsets him with immigration, because immigration is attacking him and attacking him, and when they do, his blood pressure goes really high, his sugar drops. And if he does get deported, I know Guatemala is not going to have the medical attention that he needs here. And the infection always comes back. It’s always on top of his skin. And I know if he does get deported, he won’t survive. That’s what we’re scared of.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I want to read from a letter by Ángel Rosa’s doctor Mark Reid has submitted to ICE with requests for humanitarian relief. Dr. James Mathews writes that he has been treating Rosa for, quote, “a groin/testicular infection which has recurred several times, and at one point required hospitalization and surgery this year. He has had several recurrences of the infection.” Dr. Mathews goes on to write, quote, “It is my professional opinion that he should remain where his family and medical care are available, specifically in the Cache County, Utah area.” Mark Reid, how you got involved with this case, could you talk about that, your involvement and what you’ve done?

MARK REID: Well, we got involved in this case approximately, you know, over a year now, which was referred to us by one of our colleagues in Utah, Ms. Vanessa Juarez. We’ve been fighting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement right now to try to get Ángel some type of stay of deportation because of the nature of his infection. We realize that if Mr. Rosa gets deported to Guatemala, he won’t have the medical care, he won’t have the support of his family. He can’t fend for himself. He’s not able to work. So, in our professional opinion, Mr. Ángel Rosa will be facing persecution.

AMY GOODMAN: This is how the Board of Immigration Appeals explained why it denied Ángel Rosa’s request to reopen his asylum or withholding proceedings. The ruling was on November 24, 2015. It says, quote, “[T]he applicant seeks the opportunity to apply for humanitarian asylum based on contraction of Fournier’s gangrene while in DHS custody. However the applicant is in withholding only proceedings, thus he is ineligible for a grant of humanitarian asylum,” unquote. Interestingly, the ruling also notes, quote, “While we are in sympathetic to the applicant’s situation, a request for a favorable exercise of prosecutorial discretion must be directed to DHS.” Let’s bring Renée Feltz into this conversation, a Democracy Now! criminal justice correspondent. You’ve been following this case, exposed what’s been happening with Ángel Rosa.

RENÉE FELTZ: Right. Well, Amy, there are so many reasons that one person can be denied asylum, or when they request humanitarian relief, and I think Mark can go through some of that. But when I looked into this case, at first I thought, is this sort of your standard story of someone who has a long history of entering the country without permission, maybe a criminal record—and we can talk more about that—and therefore is not in a very good legal position to stay here? But when I looked a little bit deeper and I saw his illness that he had suffered and the fact that Mr. Rosa didn’t sue ICE this year when he was released, and was just trying to simply recover—

AMY GOODMAN: Though he contracted this gangrene in the detention facility.

RENÉE FELTZ: Right. And he was simply trying to go to his check-ins. It appeared that he was trying to follow the rules of his release. So I started to wonder, you know, why exactly is he being targeted now. I tried to confirm as much as possible about what we’ve reported so far. We’re the first ones to do so. I was able to speak with ICE, two immigration spokespersons, yesterday, and they were unable to tell me anything in terms of confirming what we’ve reported, because he hasn’t yet signed a privacy release form. It’s hard for me to get that to him while he’s in the Cache County Jail. I also spoke with a researcher of Human Rights Watch. She’s looking into this issue of medical neglect and medical care in general for immigrant detainees. And she interviewed Ángel Rosa in September last year. And briefly, he told her that his infection first developed when he was placed in the solitary cell after his toilet broke in his cell. And so, I do have to some extent confirmed from Ángel directly what happened to him, not just through his daughter and through his attorney.

I want to say one other thing. You know, when I started looking at this facility, it’s in Spanish Fork, Utah. It’s the Utah County Jail. People may wonder why is he in a cell, why is he in a jail. It’s a facility that ICE contracts with, and so there are immigrants held there. Interestingly, to keep out timeline straight, he was ill in 2014. I looked up ICE’s own death records for detainees. And this facility, actually, in Spanish Fork had a death. In fact, I can read a little bit here about it. On July 12, 2014, ICE records show that Santiago Sierra-Sanchez died after he was detained in the Utah County Jail in Spanish Fork, Utah. The cause of death was Staphylococcus aureus infection. He actually died at the Utah County Regional Medical Center, but he was held previously at this facility before he was taken there. He was a 38-year-old Mexican national. And interestingly, when he was entered into the facility where Ángel Rosa also was, just like everybody, they’re supposed to receive a screening when they enter, a medical screening. And either they didn’t catch this infection, if he had it when Ángel went in, or the staph infection that Mr. Sanchez had—either they didn’t catch it, or they caught it after they were there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mark Reid, what are the options right now, or what can be done, in Mr. Rosa’s case?

MARK REID: Well, we’re actually waiting for this. We filed for a stay of removal, and we also filed a motion to reopen based on new evidence. So now that motion is actually pending at the Board of Immigration Appeals.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Renée, in your covering, putting this in context, the immigration raids that have been taking place, what kind of recourse does he have now? And in terms of ICE’s—in terms of ICE’s response to you yesterday, how typical is it? You got one call after another from them when they heard you were looking into this case, didn’t you?


AMY GOODMAN: Though they didn’t come—wouldn’t come on the show.

RENÉE FELTZ: That’s right. I mean, you could just simply say that ICE was being responsive and that the spokespersons were doing their job, and that’s great. But they’re not the most responsive agency generally for journalists. And, in fact, they weren’t able to really tell me that much. But, you know, I appreciated them getting back with me. But it does seem that he’s on their radar, in many ways.

And in terms of what Mr. Rosa has in terms of options, like Mark said, you know, they’re still working on his case. I know that they’re asking for some sort of humanitarian relief. And I wonder—as Obama, President Obama, pushes back to say that he is trying to do the right thing with deportations and target the right people, shall we say, and that he’s using his executive order to suggest prosecutorial discretion in these cases, I wonder if they will now look at this case with a little bit more discretion.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Lorena, final words as you try to get your father out of detention and prevent his deportation?

LORENA ROSA: I honestly say that they’re looking—attacking the wrong person. My dad has been a wonderful father since he’s been out of jail. He—my dad, when he gets home, all he does is read the Bible, and he supports us in so many ways. My dad, if he sees that you’re cold, he will literally take his sweater off, in this weather, and give it to you. He would give you his plate for you to eat if you’re starving. And honestly, I think immigration is attacking the wrong person. And that’s all I have to say.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Lorena, thanks so much for being with us. I know you have to go to high school now. Lorena Rosa, her father, Ángel Rosa, is fighting deportation. Mark Reid, thanks for joining us from Hartford, Connecticut, paralegal at the Thomas Rome Law Group. And, Renée, thanks for your reporting, Democracy Now! criminal justice correspondent.

RENÉE FELTZ: And you might mention, Amy, that Democracy Now!'s team will be in Utah next week, so maybe we can continue to follow this if Mark is out, and interview him—I'm sorry, if Mr. Rosa is out, and interview him there.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s right. We will continue to follow this there. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Martín Espada, the poet, joins us.

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