by Daniel A. Rosen |
Heriberto Delvalle’s story sounds like a Kafka novel, but it’s sadly true. After serving his 15-year sentence for attempted murder in a Florida state prison, he was detained by federal immigration officials, and remains there to this day – almost 12 years later. The 70-year-old Cuban man has now spent almost half his life behind bars.
Cuba won’t take him back, and ICE won’t place him on supervised release, as it normally does in these cases.
“This is purgatory,” Delvalle said in an interview. “Though I already did my time, I will likely die in here.”
ICE usually places detainees they’re unable to deport on supervised release and monitors them, but Delvalle failed a safety evaluation. And according to ICE, federal law says they can hold immigrants who “pose a threat to the public because they have committed a crime of violence, have a mental disorder and behavior associated with the disorder, and are like likely to be violent in the future.”
ICE went on to say that “detention under this authority is exceptionally rare, with only a handful of cases in existence.” The agency also claims they’ve “made repeated attempts to remove him from the US or place him in an appropriate non-detained setting with security precautions particular to his needs.” But no such place apparently exists, since independent or assisted living facilities won’t take immigrants with serious criminal records.
In a 2012 letter to Delvalle, the ICE field office in Miami wrote to inform him that “According to the psychologist, you remain likely to engage in acts of violence in the future and there are no conditions that would ensure the safety of the public.”
Delvalle has had several attorneys over the years who’ve been unsuccessful in securing his release. Juan Carlos Gomez, who directs Florida International University’s immigration law clinic, served as an early advocate. He says there just aren’t “any alternatives for detention for someone like Delvalle, who struggles with mental illness. There’s just literally no place that would take him. What do you do with someone who needs quality mental health care, who cannot be deported but who also can’t be released into the public?”
Federal documents show that Delvalle was diagnosed years ago with Persecutory Type Delusional Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Delvalle says ICE’s diagnosis is inaccurate, and that he’s “only paranoid because of spending five and a half years in isolation. I’ve been here almost 12 years and was locked up in isolation for five and a half of those years without explanation. I’m not shy to say I’m paranoid. Who wouldn’t be?”
Delvalle’s mental health status is a subject of some debate among experts, and it’s unclear if an independent assessment has been conducted. For years, Devalle’s lawyers have asked for one. A Harvard expert on mental health and incarceration, Eric Reinhart, says Delvalle may not necessarily be dangerous.
“It’s a bit of a contentious diagnosis,” Reinhart noted. It “doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody is functionally or severely impaired or a threat to others,” he said. Reinhart has no direct connection to the case and reviewed the federal immigration records at the request of media outlets. He added, “A lot of people have what I may call a delusion and they live quite well in communities, sometimes under psycho-therapeutic care, seeing a therapist every so often, or sometimes with no care at all.”
ICE would not discuss details of Delvalle’s diagnosis.
Delvalle immigrated to Key West in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift, when 125,000 Cubans fled following Fidel Castro’s announcement that those who wished to could leave. The Cuban President also opened the doors of prisons and mental institutions to those wanting to flee. Within a few years, almost 3,000 of the Cuban refugees were locked up for committing new crimes.
Delvalle wasn’t one of them. However, in 1994, he shot the brother of a man he believed to be his wife’s lover. Then-23-year-old Simon Martinez survived but suffered permanent brain damage.
“I regret what I did,” Delvalle said. “It’s shameful and an inexcusable crime of passion.”
An expert at The Sentencing Project, Nazgol Ghandnoosh, said “If he were a US citizen and weren’t entangled with ICE, he would be released on parole, take part in some outpatient visits, and a parole officer would keep track of his condition.”
Since 1993, Delvalle has mostly kept to himself. He hadn’t seen or had contact with his daughter since his arrest, when she was two years old. Delvalle’s efforts to locate her had failed, but through recent media reporting, she was tracked down using publicly-available information. The two are now back in touch and she plans to visit when it’s possible. After locating her, Delvalle said “I’m the giddiest man in the world. I can die happy now.”
Source: Miami Herald, Jan 3, 2021.
Originally written for Prison Legal News.