Angel Padilla, a 39-year-old fighting a cancer and deportation at the same time, could finally be released from prison—if his family and supporters can raise $15,000 and post bond. Critics say his case symbolizes how harsh and broken the immigration system is under the Obama administration, which has deported more people than any administration before it.
Padilla has been behind bars at the Northwest Detention Center—a private prison operated by the GEO Group for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—since January. He was transferred there by ICE from a detention center in his native California in order to have a kidney tumor removed. But he says he has been mistreated by guards and denied the surgery he needs. ICE says he is receiving adequate care and developing a treatment plan. The tumor remains.
On Wednesday morning, six of Padilla's family members—including his daughter, wife, and mother—flew in from California in order to attend the bond hearing. The hearing took place inside a cramped room at the detention center. I was denied entry by the guards and the judge, who said she only had space in the room for Padilla's lawyer and the family.
His family emerged, less than fifteen minutes later, crying. The judge ruled Padilla eligible for release on $15,000 bond and set another hearing to consider his petition against the government's intent to deport him to El Salvador.
"I'm in a better place than I was when I got here," said Elizabeth Padilla, his wife, as she walked out. "He's stage 3. This isn't something in its early stages... she [the judge] knows he's going to die."
If they're able to raise the bond, Angel Padilla will be able to walk freely outside prison walls for the first time in more than twenty years. He committed an armed robbery when he was 17-years-old—a crime he admits was a terrible mistake—and tried as an adult. He has been in various prisons ever since. As I reported in February, Padilla turned his life around:
In October 2015, having served 19 years—85 percent of his sentence—Padilla became eligible for parole. A community reentry assessment gave him stellar marks: He was likely to find a job and establish a financial footing; he was unlikely to abuse substances or be antisocial. He planned to get a welding job with Siemens or a company called Tri Tool.
Angel and Elizabeth Padilla made a plan for the day of his release: Back in Los Angeles, he would take a walk with her.
His voice goes high and his eyes moisten as he remembers: “I told her, as soon as I get out of here and far away from this prison, I want to walk. I just want to walk. I want to know that feeling again.”
When his wife came to pick him up at the prison gates, he was gone—ICE had already taken him to a private detention center. The agency said it deports immigrants who've committed aggravated felonies.
Sara Sluszka, Padilla's lawyer, said ICE argued on Wednesday against letting her client post bond, claiming he was a danger to the community and a flight risk. The judge evidently disagreed.
"They need to give him a chance," said Angie Padilla, Angel's daughter.
A recent study by the ACLU examined a spate of deaths in ICE detention centers and found that the agency often fails to abide by its own medical standards. Three of the deaths occurred at detention centers run by the GEO Group. The report's authors said Padilla ought to be released while he appeals his deportation order to seek medical care as his family sees fit.
About thirty supporters—including members of Tacoma's Unitarian Church, socialists and anarchists from Seattle, and members of the Not One More anti-deportation organization—gathered outside the detention center to support the Padilla family on Wednesday. They've put together an online fundraising page and already raised $11,000.
Ahead of the hearing, "We were just totally stressed out," Elizabeth Padilla said, holding back tears and addressing the group. "I just want to thank you."