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Meet Derrick Cotterel, Seeking Political Asylum. Hindered by the System and His Stutter

by Mahwish Khan on 10/17/2011 at 10:40am

derrick cotterelThe Associated Press introduces us to Derrick Cotterel. His story is wrenching — and says so much about the failings of the immigration detention system in the U.S.:

Derrick Cotterel was a farmworker who came to the United States from Jamaica, picking citrus in Florida and apples in West Virginia for 10 years, before a pay dispute with a landscaping employer led to his arrest last year on robbery charges.

Given his long-expired visa, the arrest landed Cotterel in immigration custody in York, Pa. But judges there struggled for nearly a year to understand his request for political asylum.

Cotterel, 42, speaks a Jamaican patois, or Creole, that might alone be difficult for Americans to grasp. But his speech is further compromised by a severe stutter that makes him nearly impossible to understand.

Nor can he read or write. So many of his thoughts remain trapped inside of him.

The full article warrants a read to get a better understanding of how broken the immigration detention system is. Cotterel’s case provides a glimpse.

Cotterel fears death if he’s returned to Jamaica–he was injured and scarred in a 1998 machete attack. But, so far, deportation is his fate. An appeal is underway:

York immigration lawyer Craig R. Shagin is frequently asked to take cases pro bono, but can only take a few, and chooses those he thinks have merit. He recently agreed to help Cotterel — who lost his asylum bid — with his appeal. He believes his client could be killed if he returns to Jamaica.

“These types of cases, you basically have death-penalty consequences while employing traffic-court procedures. It’s very frightening,” Shagin said.

Very frightening, indeed. 

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