Isenberg Archive: Lone Star Legend Springs One More

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez reference this article in their report on the boy they helped to free. Will Suzi be Next? Below, Isenberg says he’s working on it.–gm

Texas Samaritan for Canadian boy says he’ll help more kids detained in U.S.

BETH GORHAM

Canadian Press

WASHINGTON — Ralph Isenberg never met the nine-year-old Canadian boy he helped spring from a Texas immigration jail.

But the fate of Kevin Yourdkhani, who finally headed to Toronto on Wednesday with his Iranian parents, is still very personal for Isenberg, a wealthy Dallas property manager.

“I’m so happy. I pray to God that Canadians welcome that family home. Now it’s on to the next family.”
Mr. Isenberg, 55, who says he had his own immigration nightmare over the status of his Chinese wife, is determined to get all the kids out of the T. Don Hutto detention facility near Austin, Texas. He wants to force officials to shut it down.

“The conditions are atrocious,” Mr. Isenberg said from Dallas. “When I see an injustice where I can do something, I step right in. I’m not afraid of these bastards. To hell with ’em.”

A colourful, blunt-speaking businessman, Mr. Isenberg tears up when discussing how detainees have been treated by authorities.

He says the U.S. Immigration Control Enforcement is out of control. “They need to be put out of business.”

“You can’t allow a law-enforcement agency to have such power over all these foreign nationals. ICE in itself is creating terrorists of the future by jailing kids nine or 10 or 15 years old,” he said.

“I’ve seen the faces of the children who’ve been in there. Those kids are damaged goods.”

Kevin Yourdkhani was born in Canada. His parents lived in Toronto for 10 years before they were deported to Iran in 2005.

They were caught with fake passports by U.S. authorities in early February when they made an unscheduled stop in Puerto Rico while en route to Canada to seek asylum for the second time.

They spent weeks in detention. Kevin, who was threatened with foster care, wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and pleaded to be allowed to go home.

Last week, Ottawa granted the three a temporary residence permit.

Mr. Isenberg read about the boy’s case early on and stepped in, covering US$1,000 for travel permits and offering to pay the legal fees of the family’s Canadian lawyers.

While others are working on a lawsuit designed to close the facility, Isenberg works with individual families like Kevin’s.

“Somebody’s got to do it. You don’t need any more reason than it’s not right,” he says.

“It’s plain, pure and simple – not right. His was the most egregious case. He was literally kidnapped.”

“I don’t think our government understands what they did to that family.”

There is, though, a compelling reason for Mr. Isenberg’s activism and the money he devotes to it – his own battle over the status of his second wife, Nicole.

She had come to the United States in 1999 seeking political asylum. In 2003, by then Mr. Isenberg’s fiancee, she spent 52 days in the Rolling Plains Detention Center in Haskell after authorities nabbed her for failing to attend a hearing.

The prison, a mix of hardened criminals and immigration cases, was “a hell hole out in the middle of nowhere,” said Mr. Isenberg, with scant services or medical attention for detainees.

“All you have to do is experience the screams of your fiancee with an abscessed tooth, no one to help her.”

Nicole was eventually force to leave the United States. The couple and their baby had just returned in January from 14 months in China while they sorted out her case. She is now a legal permanent resident of the United States.

“I was in exile,” said Mr. Isenberg. “It was a terrible ordeal.”

It was after his return that he found out about the Hutto facility, opened last May by the Homeland Security Department.

“I went crazy when I heard about it,” he said.

“I may not have been in prison but I certainly know what this government is capable of doing to anyone and everyone.”

“If we do this to foreign nationals, it’s going to be us next.”

About half of some 400 people at Hutto are children. None of the detained have criminal records.

U.S. officials say the facility, and one like it in Pennsylvania, provide a humane way to keep families together while immigration laws are being enforced. Officials say this is what Congress directed them to do. But activists say legislators actually wanted the families held in home-like environments, not jails where they sleep in cells, wear prison garb and face major restrictions.

Mr. Isenberg helped secure the release last month of the Ibrahims, a Palestinian family held at Hutto since November on immigration violations.

When they got out, he sent a limousine to pick up Hanan and four of her five children. Their father was imprisoned hundreds of kilometres away while the family’s youngest, a three-year-old, stayed with an uncle.

Next, Mr. Isenberg is taking up the cause of three or four families who are Iraqi and Syrian.

And he’s hoping for the imminent release of Suzi Hazahza, 20, and her sister Mirvat from the same prison where his wife was once locked up.

Mr. Isenberg said it’s terrible to think about what U.S. officials did to Canadian engineer Maher Arar, who was sent to Syria where he was imprisoned and tortured.

“I think of that poor person at least once a week,” he said. “I’m kind of blessed. At least I haven’t been tortured.”

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