One Man's Fight for Freedom Spurs Detention Reform

When Mark Reid would go out with his family in New Haven, Connecticut, he often would wear a shirt or hat, identifying himself as a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve. However, for the last 16 months, Reid was separated from his teenage daughter and family not by a war in another country but by our own government's immigration detention system.

Reid is not only a veteran. He is a legal permanent resident of the United States, a father, a taxpayer, and a former Connecticut property owner. Reid came to the United States as a young teenager over 35 years ago. He chose to enlist in the Army. He served honorably.

Instead of granting him citizenship, the United States rewarded him by locking him up in one of the 250 immigration prison camps in the United States.

"It's hard to define immigration detention," said Reid. "When you are on the inside, or when you visit a detention facility, you just know it is wrong. The immigration system is designed to keep people away from their families. It is not designed to give people second chances. It's discrimination, and the world seems to be turning a blind eye to this problem."

Before Reid was detained, he did not know much about the U.S. civil immigration detention system. He had been sentenced to five years in prison for a nonviolent drug conviction in New Haven, an offense for which he takes full responsibility. While he was in state custody, he took positive steps to turn his life around. He chose to complete a paralegal certificate, receiving additional certificates in criminal law and real estate law. After serving his sentence, however, he was not released.

Although he is a legal permanent resident, he was transferred immediately into immigration detention outside his home state. Today, Reid is an activist against the inhumane and degrading mass-incarceration system. Specifically, he hopes to become accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals to practice immigration law and start a nonprofit to serve people in immigration detention and their families.

"I want to bring awareness to what is going on," said Reid, who was released last week from immigration detention and reunited with his family. "I want to bring families back together, even if it is just for a 30-minute visit behind a Plexiglas barrier."

Reid considers himself one of the lucky few. Eighty-four percent of people in immigration detention lack attorney representation. Approximately half of the over 400,000 people in immigration detention each year also are ineligible for a bond hearing. This means people will spend months and sometimes years in county jails and for-profit prisons across the United States as they fight their civil immigration cases.

However, thanks to Reid and a team of attorneys and law students at Yale Law School, there may be hope for more people in immigration detention to reunite with their families soon. In July 2013, Reid filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of himself and other people in immigration detention in Massachusetts who have been held for prolonged periods without a bond hearing. Last month, U.S. Judge Michael Ponsor issued a ruling that will enable all people detained for six months or longer by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Massachusetts to challenge their lengthy detention with a bond hearing.

"This class action will hopefully help persuade the Obama administration to abandon its illegal and inhumane prolonged immigration detention practices," said Lunar Mai, a Yale Law School student intern working on Reid's class-action lawsuit and immigration case.

Judge Ponsor ruled that Reid was entitled to a bond hearing, and Reid prevailed in his bond hearing after his daughter and many others wrote letters of support to his judge. His bond was set at $25,000, and through the support of his family, friends, and a local church, Reid raised the money to buy back his freedom on Feb. 25.

"I'm so glad to have gotten a bond hearing, but it's wrong that ICE continues to deny this opportunity to others who can't afford a good lawyer," said Reid. "If people cannot even afford a lawyer, how are they going to be able to pay their bond? I hope that immigration judges will look at the individual -- an individual who has been out of work for a long period of time, who may have children going to school, who has bills to pay -- and grant a reasonable bond."