11 September 2008 Edition
Campaign to have H-Block escapee freed
H-Block escapee Pól Brennan is looking forward to his court appearance on 17 September when his appeal for an “adjustment of status” will be heard.
The Belfast republican, who is being detained by the Department of Homeland Security in the United States, hopes that the presiding judge will rule in his favour so that he can move his case on.
Brennan was arrested in Texas in January of this year and has been detained without bail ever since. He has been refused bail as the US authorities have deemed him to be a “flight risk”.
So what initially for Brennan was a misunderstanding over a lapsed work permit has escalated into a full blooded attempt by the Department of Homeland Security to deport him from the United States.
Speaking by telephone from the Willacy County Processing Center in Raymondville, Texas where he is now being held, Brennan explained to An Phoblacht’s Peadar Whelan that “the adjustment of status hearing is about the devastating effect my deportation, if it were to happen, would have on my wife who is an American citizen.
“Her rights are enshrined in the Constitution so the court will consider the impact of my treatment, while in detention, on Joanna. Already she is suffering extreme hardship as a result of my detention because she is caring for her elderly parents as well as coping with my imprisonment.”
Pól Brennan, who was one of the 38 Republican POWs to escape from Long Kesh in 1983, was arrested in the United States in January of this year as he travelled with his wife from San Francisco to visit her parents in Texas.
A border guard noticed that Brennan’s work permit had lapsed and he was detained. Since then, a problem over his work permit has developed into a full-blown attempt by Homeland Security to have the Belfast republican deported.
Homeland Security prosecutors are also “vehemently opposed” to Brennan being bailed. Initially they argued that Brennan qualifies for mandatory detention without bail because he has a 2006 misdemeanor assault conviction for beating up a building contractor who’d refused to pay him $1,000 in wages.
He paid a $1,500 fine and served 500 hours of community service for the offence.
Prosecutors contend that that conviction automatically subjects him to a 1996 law stipulating that immigration detainees convicted of a crime after 8 October, 1998 must serve “mandatory detention” without bail.
It has since emerged that Homeland Security prosecutors have sued to deny immigration detainees the right to bond hearings on the basis of the 1996 law.
As such, prosecutors in Pól Brennan’s case, forced to withdraw that argument, have instead changed tack and are opposing bail on the grounds that Brennan is an alleged flight risk and a danger to society.
Brennan’s lawyer, Jim Byrne, is arguing that his client - a trained carpenter, a certified California housing inspector and a volunteer at a prestigious Oakland planetarium - is no threat to anyone.
The campaign in support of Pól Brennan has gathered pace in the months since his detention.
Three US Congressmen who have been active on Irish politics for years - New York Republicans Peter King and Jim Walsh and Richard Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts - have written to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff calling for Brennan to be bailed.
The trio expressed their concern over Pól Brennan’s immigration detention. They pointed out that Brennan was the subject of a British extradition warrant, lodged in 1994, which was pursued through the Federal Court.
While the case was ongoing, the Long Kesh escapee was granted bail, which he honoured.
“In light of his history of good behavior on release and his record of full compliance with the conditions of bail previously imposed by the federal courts, it concerns us that ICE insists on detaining Mr. Brennan now without offering even the option of release on a reasonable bond to assure his good conduct and appearance at future immigration proceedings,” stated the Congressmen.
Although Pól Brennan had entered the United States illegally in 1984, he was eventually allowed to remain there after a campaign by Irish American supporters. The US made provisions in its domestic law to allow Brennan to remain in America.
The US also allowed the escapees to seek political asylum and granted him a work permit on the understanding that he (and the others) could remain in the United States until the asylum case was resolved.
“I was on the lowest possible immigration status and had to renew the work permit every six months. So when I was stopped by the Border Guards and told them I had applied for the permit to be renewed I thought a couple of phone calls to my lawyer would sort it out.
“I’m disappointed that they are detaining me without bail. As far as I’m concerned they broke their word with regard to what we believed as my status here,” said Brennan.
For the first four months after his arrest Brennan was held in solitary confinement at Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas.
The prison authorities told him it was for his own safety as the other prisoners, mostly Mexican or from Central America, might harm him “because of his IRA past”.
When Brennan goes to shower he is accompanied at all times by officers from the Immigration Department.
Brennan has also endured transfers from detention centre to detention centre. In July, as Hurricane Dolly swept along America’s Gulf Coast, Brennan was evacuated to a detention centre in New Mexico. During the transfer he was shackled for the 14-hour trip and while in New Mexico it was almost impossible for his wife to visit him.
Pól is now being held in the Willacy County Processing Center, 1800 Industrial Drive in Raymondville, Texas 78580.
He is hopeful that his “adjustment of status” hearing will be successful and that this will open the way for him to be released on bail.
Meanwhile, back in Belfast, his family are campaigning to build support for their son and brother.
His sister Marion criticised the US Government, saying, “We urge everyone to ask their friends and contacts in the USA to write to their elected representatives and ask a simple question: is this the type of American justice that they support and, if not, can they take action to right a wrong being perpetuated against Pól Brennan and his family.”
His address is
Pól Brennan A88 785 324,
Willacy County Detention Center,
1,800 Industrial Road,
Raymonville, TX 78580.
He can only receive letters. No books, no magazines
For further information on the Pól Brennan case go to www.polbrennan.com