When Floyd Herbert Abdul, a native of Zimbabwe living legally in the United States, was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Nov. 24, 2006, he was plunged into a bureaucratic system that he describes as “hell on Earth.”
“They do so much to literally dehumanize you,” he said. “If you’re not strong mentally, then you lose it.”
The reason for Abdul’s nightmare: He never received a letter informing him of an upcoming immigration hearing because the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, sent the letter to an outdated address.
As a result, Abdul, a political opponent of Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe who is seeking political asylum in the U.S., spent over four months in detention, first in Atlanta, then at the Etowah County Detention Center in northeast Alabama. Etowah, a jail that also holds county inmates, has for years concerned human rights activists. They say the quality and quantity of food, lack of access to the outdoors and jail-like conditions are inappropriate for immigrant detention, which is not designed as punishment.