By Gaige Davila
The Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC) and one of its detainees has attracted the attention of United State Congress members.
Forty-four U.S. Congress members have co-signed a letter urging Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to not deport Steven Tendo, a 36-year-old pastor from Uganda who has been detained at PIDC since December 2018, to his home country.
“There is reason to believe that Pastor Steven Tendo will be tortured and killed as soon as he arrives in Uganda,” the letter reads. “Removing Pastor Steven under these circumstances would constitute a breach of U.S. obligations under both U.S. domestic asylum law as well as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment.”
As previously reported by PeopleLiveHere and the PRESS, Tendo left Uganda after being persecuted by the country’s government for organizing human rights and voting rights campaigns with his ministry, ELOI Ministries, living in Mexico City for some time under asylum. After presenting himself for asylum at the Gateway International Bridge between Matamoros and Brownsville, Tendo was detained and transferred to PIDC.
The letter’s author, Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA), also advocates for Tendo’s release on medical parole to one of several possible sponsors, due to Tendo’s high risk of contracting COVID-19.
Tendo, who is diabetic, has updated the PRESS regularly on his medical condition while inside PIDC, mentioning that both of his eyes have developed cataracts, his kidneys are inflamed and he likely contracted COVID-19 in the detention center, he said, after losing his sense of smell for two weeks and developing a cough.
Tendo told the PRESS that he is scheduled for an eye surgery to remove a cataract that has covered his right eye on Sept. 3 in McAllen. The surgery’s scheduling came as a surprise to Tendo, who said his requests for medical attention have largely gone ignored until recently. Tendo told the PRESS his dorm inside PIDC, as of Aug. 21, is under quarantine again after detainees there contracted COVID-19.
“I have witnessed it and I saw it coming, but even when I kept complaining, they rubbished my concerns and brought in new people from other recovery dorms which put more risk to my life and others,” Tendo told the PRESS in a message. “Crowding my dorm with more than 50 people yet there are empty housing units does not only undermine our safety but also the public safety.”
An ICE spokesperson told the PRESS that people detained in PIDC are tested for COVID-19 upon intake, then quarantined from the general population for 14 days. ICE did not comment on whether empty housing units inside PIDC were not being used in favor of already-filled dorms.
According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website, 133 PIDC detainees have tested positive for COVID-19, with no active cases or deaths. Cameron County Public Health has listed, as of Wednesday, Aug. 26, that only 85 detainees at PIDC have contracted COVID-19, along with 12 employees.
Esmeralda Guajardo, Cameron County Health Administrator, told the PRESS that Cameron County’s differing COVID-19 case count is due to only reporting cases linked to cases inside the detention center.
“If a detainee tests positive after their screening upon arrival to the facility, we would not include in our numbers as it is not part of an outbreak,” Guajardo said, noting this same method applies to people who tested positive at another facility outside of Cameron County but were then transferred to a Cameron County detention facility.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to the PRESS’ request for comment.
Currently, Tendo has two lawsuits pending for his release, a Petition for Review in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals after his asylum case was denied and subsequently affirmed by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Tendo’s attorneys have also filed a motion to reopen the Board of Immigration Appeals’ case.
On July 30, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization called for Tendo’s release.
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