#FreeYoel: Organizers in New Orleans challenge ICE inhumanity

Cliff Soloway and Lauren Allen

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Cliff Soloway and Lauren Allen were among those arrested on Sept. 8.

Yoel Alonso Leal is a Cuban political dissident, husband and father. Since November of last year, when United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement initially detained him, he has been interrogated, denied parole and transferred from Louisiana to Alabama. Meanwhile, a tumor has been expanding in his lungs as he suffers from gout and pneumonia. Doctors raised concerns that this condition may be undergoing cancer metastasis, but ICE has blocked any biopsy that would confirm his medical status.

This lack of adequate medical attention is unfortunately not surprising, since Leal is currently detained in Etowah, Alabama. This facility has been identified by detained people, activists and even the Department of Homeland Security itself as unfit for long-term detention. Several former detainees cite a lack of outdoor recreational space and an underfunded medical facility that make their lives “miserable.” Since he arrived in Etowah, Leal’s wheelchair has been taken from him despite the fact that he cannot walk without assistance. Fellow inmates manage his hygiene. His wife, a legal resident in Florida, has been forced to undergo extended periods of time without knowing her husband’s location.

While the conditions that Leal is forced to endure are not unique, his particular case has drawn national media attention. He is a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit brought against the DHS and ICE to challenge their systematic refusal to grant parole to asylum-seekers. On September 5, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an injunction in favor of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who initiated litigation.

The next day, ICE sought Leal’s deportation. If the agency is successful, doctors worry Leal will die on the plane to Cuba.

Since then, Congreso de Jornaleros (Congress of Day Laborers) has led a fierce campaign demanding Leal’s immediate release. Congreso is a migrants’ rights advocacy organization based in New Orleans that was founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to secure fundamental protections for undocumented workers. Leaders at Congreso have called on Congressman Cedric Richmond, of Louisiana’s second district, to speak out about Leal’s case and to pressure ICE to release him. Congreso has also allied with local doctors to emphasize: ICE’s deportation order is a death sentence. 

Throughout this campaign, Congreso has relied on support from various local grassroots organizations that are united in their opposition to ethnic cleansing, whether it is carried out by ICE or by racist police. On September 9th, these groups gathered together outside ICE’s regional headquarters to demand that the Regional Director, William Joyce, allow a lawyer, a doctor and a community activist to file legal and medical paperwork. They were refused, and Congreso led a group of activists onto the street, 10 of whom were arrested. The next day, on September 10th, local doctors and students held a “die-in” in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, where ICE’s regional headquarters are housed.

The efficacy of these efforts has quickly become apparent. Congressman Richmond has written a letter in support of Yoel and joined Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib in releasing online statements. Physicians for Human Rights has circulated a petition among medical personnel demanding that Yoel’s life be saved. Although Regional Director Joyce remains obstinate in his insistence to see the death of a sick man, there is hope that Joyce will eventually fail. 

Activists with Congreso are calling on supporters to tweet at and/or email Representative Richmond to demand the immediate release of Yoel Alonso Leal. They have also requested that citizens email ICE Regional Director William Joyce to voice their displeasure. 

During the protest on September 8th, Leal’s wife called in to speak from her home in Florida. All she wants is to cook soup for her sick husband. If you wish to help Yoel, contract Cedric Richmond and William Joyce. Demand the immediate release of Yoel Alonso Leal from ICE custody.

Cedric Richmond Contact Information: 

  • Twitter: @RepRichmond
  • Phone: (202) 225-6636

William Joyce Contact Information: