Guest Bloggers

Claudette Hubbard, Detained and Facing Deportation for Being Black in America


Claudette Hubbard, a mother and grandmother to U.S. citizens, should have celebrated the holidays with her family in Compton, California.

Instead, with the coming of the New Year, she is still languishing in an immigration detention facility in Contra Costa, California.

Ms. Hubbard is not new to state-sponsored violence. When she was merely 16 years old in Jamaica, Claudette faced emotional and physical violence due to her sexual orientation. She was seriously beaten and suffered a concussion because her car was driven off the road. The Jamaican government not only acquiesces in the torture of LGBT individuals in Jamaica, but is directly involved in such torture, so young Claudette did not have the protection of Jamaican authorities. Fearing for her life, Claudette immigrated to the United States in 1973 as a lawful permanent resident.

However, young Claudette soon fell victim to the nefarious criminalization of black and brown people in the United States. With the U.S. waging a tough war on drugs with harsh mandatory minimum laws, Claudette was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for a non-violent drug conspiracy charge. She was imprisoned in 1991, when her daughter Toya, was merely 15 years old, which ripped apart her family. When asked about growing up without her mother, Toya says:

Growing up without my mom as an active participant in my life was very difficult to say the least. But through it all, she has still managed to be a positive motivating force in my life and the life of my children. She has managed to maintain her spirit of character and has made the situation work for her instead of against her. While serving her long prison sentence, my mother Claudette received her associate’s degree, worked at a U.S. Army base, and helped provide volunteer social services to other prisoners. Upon her release from federal prison, she also received a full-time job offer with a nationally acclaimed human rights center.

Ms. Hubbard obtained release from prison after spending 18 years, based on her good character within prison where she was deemed a low security risk. However, shortly after her release from federal prison, she was swooped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to be detained again, and deported from the United States for her non-violent drug conspiracy crime that was two decades old.

The Obama Administration says it is targeting only “serious criminals” for removal. What it is actually doing is expanding the notion of criminality and pursuing the deportation of anyone who has a conviction, irrespective of whether the person has rehabilitated and paid her debt to society. Less than 15 percent of deportations are sought against people with “serious criminal” histories. For the Obama Administration, Ms. Hubbard falls within the list of people deemed to have a “serious criminal” record.

Due to Ms. Hubbard’s persecution in Jamaica, Attorney General Eric Holder agreed to refer Ms. Hubbard’s  case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals to reconsider her application for deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). This means that if a lower court, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), finds that Ms. Hubbard could possibly face torture in Jamaica due to her sexual orientation, she cannot be forced to leave the country. On August 21, 2013, the Ninth Circuit issued the remand order and ordered a stay of removal for Ms. Hubbard, pending the adjudication of her case at the BIA.

In effect, this means that Ms. Hubbard cannot be deported. Despite this pending determination, she remains locked up as a “flight risk” in a detention facility at taxpayer expense.

Thousands have signed a petition for her release and rallied for her freedom but thus far, ICE has refused to release her, even under order of supervision. Even when the ICE counsel agreed to set bond, but her Immigration Judge has refused to allow it. In his eyes, Ms. Hubbard, would flee despite the fact that she has rehabilitated, has strong family ties and a job offer outside of prison. Perhaps, in the eyes of the American (in)justice system, a black person who commits one transgression is forever doomed to criminality.

I am not entirely sure where ICE counsel and the Immigration Judge think Ms. Hubbard would flee to if given the chance. I would venture to guess that it would be back to her family in Compton, CA, to have her first dinner with her family in forever and give thanks to a country that has denied her liberty for over twenty years now.

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By Prerna Lal

Prerna Lal is undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic. As a founder of DreamActivist, Prerna helped to create a robust network of highly-organized and diverse undocumented youth with digital engagement capacity. Since then, her model of organizing has been used by immigration organizations across the country to end deportations. Her work and commentary for immigrant rights has been featured in newspapers such as The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, and magazines such as the US News and World Report, as well as international outlets in a dozen countries.

Prerna currently resides in Washington D.C. with her same-sex U.S. citizen partner, and has been a Board Director at Immigration Equality, an organization that works on issues around LGBT immigrants, since 2010. She is currently working on publishing her first book.