'Operation Return to Sender' stumbles

Jennifer Van Bergen
Published: Thursday September 28, 2006

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Questions are being raised about the arrest, detention, and treatment of a long-term Ukrainian legal resident alien in Florida.

Bella Maryanovsky, a thirty-year legal resident of the United States, was arrested last week on Tuesday, September 19, when she entered immigration offices for a routine update of her green card papers. It appears she was arrested under a new immigration program called �Operation Return to Sender.�

According to Michael Chertoff in a June 2006 press release, �Operation Return to Sender is another example of a new and tough interior enforcement strategy that seeks to catch and deport criminal aliens, increase worksite enforcement, and crack down hard on the criminal infrastructure that perpetuates illegal immigration.�

�The fugitives captured in this operation,� claimed Chertoff, �threatened public safety in hundreds of neighborhoods and communities around the country. This department has no tolerance for their criminal behavior.�

However, Maryanovsky, according to her family and friends, has long been an upstanding member of society. She is currently employed placing engineers in jobs nationwide with salaries ranging from $75,000 to $250,000.

Gino Sedikov, Maryanovsky�s attorney, explained in a Monday conversation that he has yet to determine the charges on which Maryanovsky is being held. She was not provided with a �notice to appear� or given any indication that her immigration file had been flagged or that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intended to arrest her. Sedikov believes this is part of the new policy in the ICE office.

Michael Keegan, a spokesman for ICE in Washington, D.C. told RAW STORY in a phone conversation on Wednesday, �It is not our job to create the law. It is not our job to interpret the law. Our job is to enforce the law.� According to Keegan, �the posture of law enforcement agencies has completely changed since 9/11.�

The most likely reason Maryanovksy�s file was flagged is that in 1989 she was convicted � wrongfully, according to her family � of committing a crime that at the time was not a deportable offense. Laws passed in the 1990�s that applied retroactively, according to Keegan, would have made her offense a deportable one.

"However, according to an immigration expert, Mark Levey, who is a former immigration law journal editor and has worked in immigration law in Washington, D.C. for twenty years, because Maryanovsky's crime precedes the 1990's laws, although she is still deportable, she is nonetheless eligible for bond and for relief from removal based on her good character."

"Because Maryanovsky's crime precedes the 1990's laws," Levey explains, "although she is still deportable, she is nonetheless eligible for bond and for relief from removal based on her good character."

Why was Maryanovsky arrested now, almost twenty years after her conviction? Keegan contends, �It�s because we�re such a good agency,� implying that ICE does a better job than its predecessor, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

According to Sedikov, thousands of immigrants are sitting in jails and detentions centers without any hope of what is called "relief from removal" � that is, cancellation of a charge that would otherwise result in deportation.

The present immigration system, reformulated under the Department of Homeland Security after the passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, was divided into two parts: an enforcement agency (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or �ICE,� ironically referred to by immigration attorneys as the �ICEmen�) and a separate service agency for getting a green card.

ICE is further divided into an investigative unit, a deportation/removal unit, and a detection/arrest unit. Because of these divisions, �the wheels of justice move slowly,� says Sedikov. A detainee�s file is supposed to follow them from unit to unit, but sometimes � as in Maryanovsky�s case � the file is lost. The detainee may then wait in detention for months until the file is found. Even when a file is accounted for, detainees may still spend weeks in jail, since detention centers are overfull.

In the meantime, explains Sedikov, if the detainee is not held near an immigration court there is no mechanism by which they can be brought before an immigration judge to challenge their detention. The individual must simply wait until the right official in the right department of ICE decides it is time to bring them to court. Immigration courts do not have sheriffs who can bring detainees in, so judges will not entertain an attorney�s request for a bond hearing unless the detainee is accessible. Thus, an individual put into detention falls into a sort of black hole. According to Sedikov, �ICE has no duty to respect [the attorney�s] requests.�

Sedikov claims he has left 70 messages on the Maryanovsky case in five days, and has received no return call from ICE officials. His current aim is to have her transferred to a location that would allow her to be brought before a judge.

Maryanovsky claims that she is currently being held in a jail cell with an accused murderer. Last week she was in a cell with five other people and only two beds, so she slept on a �urine-laden cement floor.�

To make matters more disheartening, Maryanovsky takes medication for heart arrhythmia and high blood pressure. She confided to her family and friends that prison personnel mockingly refused to give her medication, telling her, �When you have a heart attack, then we�ll help you.�

One friend, Lauren, who wished to keep her last name private, said that she has visited Maryanovsky twice, and her ankles and extremities are swelling. �[She] can go into heart failure,� Lauren told RAW STORY. According to family members, her blood pressure hit 220/110, and the family obtained a doctor�s letter to present to immigration authorities, but she was still apparently not being given her medication.

Maryanovsky is scheduled soon to be transferred to Krome Detention Center, outside Miami, according to Sedikov. Two years ago, Krome garnered much press attention when an 81-year old Haitian Baptist minister, Joseph Dantica, died while being detained there after seeking asylum. He fell ill during his hearing, after, like Maryanovsky, requesting medication for high blood pressure. Officials contend that he died of pancreatitis and deny responsibility for his death.

Ray Del Papa of the South Florida Peace and Justice Network � a coalition that includes representatives from such groups as the Quakers, Pax Christi, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Jewish Arab Defense Association, Haiti Solidarity, and many others � told RAW STORY that he sees an incongruity in the arrest and detention of such persons as Maryanovsky or Dantica while known terrorists, such as Luis Possada Carriles, Orlando Bosch, and Virgilio Paz Romero, are allowed to remain free in the U.S., despite their criminal records.

Sedikov claims that the arresting officer told him, �We got orders to arrest everybody.�

That officer, Keith Bradley, refused to confirm or deny anything about the case to RAW STORY, saying �I still have a mortgage and bills to pay.�

Some have speculated that Maryanovsky�s sudden arrest and detention may have a political motive. Levey disagrees, as does RAW STORY managing news editor Larisa Alexandrovna, who was raised together with Maryanovsky since their arrival in the United States. But Alexandrovna, who did not contribute to the writing or editing of this piece, says she believes readers should �view this as a typical day.�

�Sure, I find it odd that in Southern Florida � where immigration targets are usually Cuban, South American, and Haitian � suddenly a Ukrainian Jew is arrested, held without charge, and her file goes missing,� says Alexandrovna. �But I also find it odd that thousands of people are being swept up in these raids, we don�t know their actual citizenship status, they are disappeared and held in detention facilities, and no one notices. It is all odd,� added Alexandrovna in a Wednesday evening email.

Jennifer Van Bergen is a free-lance journalist who holds a law degree. Her book The Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America has been called a �primer for citizenship.� She can be reached at [email protected].