Juan Guerrero González eagerly awaits his partner’s call each day, although he is not sure if it will happen, much less at what time. And he won’t be able to call back if he misses it.
Guerrero, who lives in Tampa, Fla., and Dainier Pérez Peña have been together since they met in Havana more than eight years ago. Guerrero now only has one chance a day to speak with his partner because he is in an isolation cell at the Winn Correctional Center, a privately-run U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Louisiana.
Pérez is allowed outside of his cell for a few minutes each day to take a shower, and it is only then when he is able to call his partner. Guerrero tells the Los Angeles Blade the calls leave him totally devastated because his partner “is in a very deteriorated physical and mental state.”
“It has been a very long process and has caused a very deep depression,” says Guerrero.
Pérez, 34, is originally from Niquero, a small town in Granma province in eastern Cuba.
He asked for asylum at a port of entry in Columbus, N.M., on June 28, 2019, based on persecution he claims to have suffered in Cuba because he is gay.
“Gay people are more marginalized without any rights,” Guerrero told the Blade, referring to Cuba. “Therefore he was harassed by the police and the revolutionary masses.”
An immigration judge on May 7 denied Pérez’s asylum request. His lawyer on July 31 appealed the ruling to the Virginia-based Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, oversees.
‘My partner is a sick person’
Pérez was detained at the Jackson Correctional Center, another privately-run detention center in Louisiana, before ICE transferred to the Winn Detention Center on Aug. 13. He has been in solitary confinement there for more than 15 days.
His tiny cell only has room for a bed, a toilet and a sink. ICE says the facility’s air conditioning system works without problems, but Pérez tells Guerrero his cell is hot because it does not have proper ventilation, which exacerbates his despair and makes the days even more unbearable for him.
Guerrero says he always tries to cheer him up when they speak.
He pleads with him to remain calm and strong, that this country will save him. Pérez’s voice — muffled and colorless — nevertheless dictates that Guerrero’s efforts are in vain.
“My partner is a sick person,” says Guerrero. “He has problems with his blood pressure, with his kidneys and heart problems due to his current depressed state. Right now he has a fever and headaches and is not receiving any medical attention.”
Guerrero says he fears Pérez will contract the coronavirus.
ICE on its website notes as of Aug. 27 there were eight confirmed coronavirus cases at the Winn Correctional Center.
Guerrero sent the Blade a voice message from an official at the detention center who said Pérez did not have coronavirus systems, despite having a fever.
There is not a day that goes by when Guerrero doesn’t call the detention center to demand doctors examine his partner. Guerrero told the Blade authorities always say they “will attend to him,” but when he manages to talk to Pérez he discovers they have yet to see him.
“Any suggestion that anyone in ICE custody is denied necessary medical treatment is false,” said Bryan D. Cox, director of public affairs for ICE’s Southeast Region, in a statement to the Blade. “Pursuant to ICE’s commitment to the welfare of those in the agency’s custody ICE spends more than $260 million annually on the spectrum of health care services provided to those in our care.”
Cox further said all people who are in ICE custody receive comprehensive medical care at taxpayers’ expense, which includes 24-hour emergency care and access to private medical facilities if necessary.
ICE detainees, however, are placed into solitary cells when they are sick in order to stop the spread of contagious diseases. ICE also places detainees into solitary confinement when they engage in behavior that violates rules.
Guerrero said his partner was placed into an isolation cell because he had problems while at the Jackson Correctional Center upon which he did not expound. Guerrero told the Blade that ICE transferred him to the Winn Correctional Center for that reason.
Guerrero tells the Blade that officials have mistreated him because of his sexual orientation.
“Apparently, the officers have commented on the statements he has made in their courts about the abuses he suffered in Cuba for being gay and now they discriminate against him, like some of his fellow detainees, mainly from Central America,” said Guerrero.
“One of the things that has happened to him is that they don’t let him shower with the others. They wouldn’t let him use the communal bathroom. They stole his toilet paper. They stole his calling minutes and insulted him to provoke him,” he said, referring to the detainees. “He has had a lot of bullying problems.”
ICE says Pérez has attacked detainees, staff
Cox said Pérez “has been housed in a special management unit on multiple occasions following repeated physical assaults, and threats of violence, toward fellow detainees and facility staff.”
“These housing placements were in full accordance with federal law and agency policy,” Cox told the Blade. “He remains in ICE custody pending the outcome of his legal appeal.”
Pérez remains under treatment and psychological observation because he has suicidal thoughts, which is one of his partner’s greatest concerns. Guerrero stated Pérez has been drowsy during some of their phone calls because of the medications he has previously been prescribed.
Immigration Equality on Aug. 19 made another parole request for Pérez to Winn Correctional Center Supervisory Detention and Deportation Officer Quincy Hodges.
“Previously, we submitted the same parole request on around July 27 to a deportation officer Dainier had in Jackson Parish,” Immigration Equality Legal Assistant Liza Doubossarskaia told the Blade. “However, Dainier was transferred to Winn before any decision on the request was made. As of right now, we have not received any response from Officer Hodges.”
Doubossarskaia confirms Pérez has several health issues that should qualify him for release.
“It is disturbing and highly concerning that ICE continues to detain Dainier, despite these considerations,” said Doubossarskaia. “By continuing to detain Dainier, ICE is putting his life at serious risk. Dainier is eligible for parole, so ICE’s actions are cruel and irrational, both towards Dainier and his partner, who is heartbroken over Dainier’s situation.”
Michael K. Lavers contributed to this article.
Editor’s note: Yariel Valdés González was in ICE custody for nearly a year until ICE released him from the River Correctional Center, a privately-run detention center in Louisiana, on March 4, 2020.