Many immigrants are detained for as long as it takes for their immigration cases to be decided so they have no certainty as to when they will be released. The actual length of detention - which extends to months and years - often depends on factors over which people in detention have no control, such court backlogs. This indeterminacy inflicts real physical and psychological harms on individuals and the families from which they are separated.
Arnold Giammarco is a lawful permanent resident of fifty years, a husband and father to U.S. citizens, and a U.S. Army and National Guard veteran. His 18-month detention took such a toll on him and his wife, Sharon, and daughter, Blair, that he abandoned a good-faith citizenship claim and accepted an order of deportation, as he explains:
"At first, four or five days a week, Sharon would drive Blair an hour and a half up from Groton, Connecticut, to visit me in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. I could only see them from behind glass. Blair was 2, and she didn't understand why I wouldn't pick her up — she would cry and reach for me. I tried to make up games: Blair would move her hand on one side of the glass, and I would follow her motions with my hand on the other side."
"Soon, Sharon cut the visits to once a week, on Sundays. Gas was expensive, and the trip was hard on Blair. The legal battle had drained our "piggy bank" of a few thousand dollars we'd been saving for Blair to go to college, and my parents' pension fund. It was devastating to see my family struggle, emotionally and financially. I worried I was wasting my family's energy and money. Eventually, rather than staying on to fight my case from behind bars, I accepted deportation to Italy, a country where I barely speak the language."
"Now I'm living in a central Italian town called Campo Di Fano. I try to Skype with Blair twice a day, when she wakes up in the morning and after school. I help her with her homework, like I would if I was there. She'll set up the iPhone on the dresser and do a dance routine for me. All I want is to go home and take care of her and Sharon.
Mr. Giammarco eventually returned home in July after being naturalized as a US citizen at the embassy in Rome. His family reached a settlement with USCIS that allowed Arnold to reapply for citizenship.