A Cary church is asking U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release a church member who has a life-threatening medical condition.
Gilles Bikindou, a native of the Republic of Congo, was unexpectedly arrested and threatened with deportation on Tuesday during one of his regular check-ins with ICE in Charlotte.
Greenwood Forest Baptist Church in Cary held a press conference Thursday on behalf of Bikindou, who is detained at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. The church is asking ICE to reconsider Gilles’ stay of removal application, which was denied the day it was submitted, said the Rev. Lauren Efird.
Bikindou has a serious medical condition that requires medication that is only available in the United States and Canada, Efird said. She did not specify the condition, citing Bikindou’s right to keep medical records private.
Efird said she wasn’t sure if Bikindou has received medical attention while in custody and warned that his health may be getting worse.
Efird referenced a Department of Homeland Security report published in December 2017 of an unannounced inspection of several ICE detention facilities, including Stewart. Investigators found the rights of detainees, their humane treatment and access to a safe and healthy environment had been “undermined.”
The report specifically mentioned the Stewart facility had incomplete, missing or no documentation of some detainees’ medical visits and meals. The report also said some detainees waited for days for medical attention.
“Stewart Detention Center reported long waits for the provision of medical care, including instances of detainees with painful conditions, such as infected teeth and a knee injury, waiting days for medical intervention,” the report said.
“We are concerned that ICE has shown no regard for Gilles’ rights or health in this process,” Efird said.
“We are concerned that the stay of removal application was not adequately considered. We are concerned, above all, that without adequate medical care, Gilles will die if deported to the Republic of Congo. Moreover, he may die before he ever makes it to the Republic of Congo. He might die right here in the United State of America on our government’s watch.”
A spokeswoman for ICE in Tampa, Fla., said Thursday that she was working to find out whether Bikindou was receiving medication.
Bikindou’s lawyer, Hans Linnartz, on Friday said the medical team at the detention center promised Bikindou’s doctor they would be able to provide him necessary medication and would perform a medical exam on him.
“ICE takes very seriously the health, safety, and welfare of those in our care and our detention centers are staffed with medical and mental health care providers who monitor, diagnose and treat residents at the facility,” ICE spokeswoman Tammy Spicer said Friday.
“ICE also uses outside, private medical [and] mental health care service providers as needed. All ICE detainees are supported by the ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC). ICE considers all humanitarian factors when making custody determinations and during the removal process.”
Bikindou’s immigration story
Bikindou arrived in the U.S. in 2004 with an education visa sponsored by the government of the Congo, according to Linnartz.
The Congo withdrew funding for his visa when Bikindou refused to falsely testify for the government about state-sponsored crimes he witnessed, Linnartz said.
He received voluntary departure on April 10, 2006 and was ordered to leave the following month, according to ICE spokeswoman Tammy Spicer.
Bikindou applied for political asylum, but a judge denied his application after a lengthy court process. He received his final order of removal January 2010.
ICE arrested him June 2010 pursuant to his final order of removal but was released on an order of supervision a few weeks later, Spicer said.
That order required him to attend appointments at the ICE field office in Charlotte to show he had not run away and that he was not a threat to society, Linnartz said.
Under the supervision order, Bikindou was allowed to continue to work and drive. He has been to every appointment he was asked to attend, Efird said, but was arrested Tuesday during his appointment with ICE in Charlotte without receiving any notice.
“Mr. Bikindou has been afforded full legal process in his case and was taken into custody based on a final order of removal issued by an immigration judge,” Spicer said Friday. “ICE considers all humanitarian factors when making custody determinations and in the removal process.”
While Bikindou was detained, Linnartz submitted Bikindou’s application for a stay of removal, which would delay his deportation for a year, but it was denied.
The immigration officer handling Bikindou’s case had assured him that he would not be arrested without warning, knowing that he was about to submit his stay of removal application, Efird said.
“The policy seems to be, ‘If we can deport someone under the law, then we just will regardless of any consequences – consequences that flow to American friends, employers, spouses, children. We don’t care, we’re going to do it,’ ” Linnartz said of immigration practices under President Donald Trump’s administration.
The White House has made it a priority to deport everyone who has entered the country illegally. Under the Obama administration, people with criminal convictions were prioritized.
“As acting ICE Director Thomas Homan made clear, ICE will not exempt classes or categories of aliens not lawfully present in the Unites States from potential enforcement,” Spicer said. “All of those in violation of U.S. immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and removal from the United States, if found removable by final order”.
Bikindou’s deportation can be halted by the executive branch, as low as ICE up to the Department of Homeland Security, Linnartz said. The president could also intervene with a pardon.
Bikindou does not have any family members who live in the U.S.