My family and I escaped persecution from our home country on the 17th of October 2007. We first landed in Vancouver, Canada so we therefore MUST seek refugee status there. To make a long story short, we were denied in Canada due to the fact that "the Philippines is not a refugee producing country!" as the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) had so eloquently put it. So we were then issued an order to depart Canada.
We departed Canada as instructed. We then drove to the nearest border (Peace Arch Border in Blaine, WA.) and sought asylum there on the 07th of Feb. 2011. The border agent was very polite and immediately comforted us and said not to worry as we will not be deported back to the Philippines and that he will start the process of my asylum application. We experienced some discrimination and some "harsh" words from some of the lesser intellects from the border patrol agency. We were kept at the border for several hours and were interviewed separately.
Upon learning that I had to be detained, I pleaded with the head border agent not to detain my wife and two young children. He said that he will parole them into the US if a friend or relative can come and pick them up. I arranged for my brother who lives in California to pick them up. After learning that I MUST be detained, my wife and children were in disbelief and had started to cry and plead for them to release me. I was handcuffed and shackled in front of my wife and children which in turn freaked them out some more. I was then allowed to spend some time with them before they were escorted out of the "back room".
I was held at the border's holding facility for a few hours. I was given some sack lunch and was allowed to have a smoke before I was transferred to the North West Detention Centre (NWDC) in Tacoma, WA. The process took about 5-6 hours for the NWDC to process me into their system so I therefore had to wait in a holding tank for that period.
I was told by an ICE officer that I should just sign my deportation order because I did not have the chance to prove my case here in the US since I was already denied in Canada. I refused and was immediately threatened that they will use force if necessary to make me sign the document. I told them that nothing they will do will ever make me sign as I will surely face a much harsher treatment should I be deported back to our country. I was then told that I will have to see an Immigration Judge (IJ) to fight my case.
I waited 45 days to find out what the status of my case was. After that time, I wrote to my ICE officer to see where my case was. She replied that USCIS should interview me first to see if I was credible enough to apply for asylum. Shortly after, about 1 1/2 weeks, my credible fear interview took place. The USCIS asylum officer indicated that I had a well founded fear of persecution due to my political opinion and she had forwarded her findings to the San Francisco USCIS office for approval.
A few days later, I received a letter from them that says that my claims for asylum had been forwarded to an IJ and that I should wait for my first master hearing schedule. I was also told that I cannot be paroled even though I had the rights to because I was a flight risk due to my escape from our country!
Another 3 weeks and I finally got my schedule for a master hearing. At the master hearing, I was told by the judge that she had found some anomalies in my charges that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had charged me with. She said that she will order the DHS to remand some of the charges and that I was to be scheduled for a second master hearing in two weeks.
I then took this time to dedicate myself with the immigration laws for a detained individual at the NWDC's law library. I also asked my wife to mail me some of my evidences and documents to prove that I indeed had the nexus to file my claim. I prepared for all the documents myself. Most of the pro-bono lawyers refused to help us and the ones that did wanted a minimum of $6,000 to fight my case. I did not have the resources to hire an attorney so I then went on to represent myself in the IJ.
At my second master hearing, I was told that the extra charges were dropped and that I had only one charge to fight. That charge was only because we tried to enter the US without proper documents (i.e. visas, travel documents, etc.). The judge then asked me if I needed time to try to obtain legal counsel. I told her that I was confident enough to proceed with the matter but I did reserved the right to seek legal counsel at a later date if the need arises. I was then asked if I had any documents that I wanted to submit. I then gave the judge her copy of my I-589 application, my declaration and a lot of my evidences gathered including the most recent country report.
The judge was impressed because I took the time to prepare my documents and made copies for her, the DHS prosecutor and a receiving copy for myself. She then proceeded to acknowledge her disbelief that an inmate could do such a professional job. With that, she rewarded me by setting my individual hearing at the earliest date possible which was a month and a half away.
I then received a pre-hearing document from the DHS that stated that I did not establish a nexus for my claim and that they did not believe that I will be able to justify my claims. I then rebutted the pre-hearing statement and referenced as much of the 9th circuit cases that applied to mine to show that I was indeed a whistle blower in our country for reporting government corruption to the proper authorities and including the US Embassy and that I fall under the political opinion nexus.
After I submitted that to the court, I did not receive any more documents from both the DHS and the IJ. The last few weeks was the most painful part of the wait as I knew that one person will eventual decide the fate of my family and I. I began helping other detainees by writing their arguments and/or their briefs. Until that day, June 15th of 2011.
I stood in front of the judge and the prosecutor. They bombarded me with questions trying to find the slightest crack in my statements. I painfully had to relive the memories of my abduction and torture. The prosecutor implicated that I only came to the US to file an asylum case just so we could stay here and reap the benefits of this country.
The judge the proceeded to ask me as to why my case was on the internet. I told her that my case at one point became a national headline as I was being charged with economic sabotage in the Philippines and that I was found not guilty by the Philippine courts system but yet the Philippine government refused to release me because I had reported the crimes that I was being charged with and to my knowledge, they were trying to cover up their blunder.
Unfortunately for me, the syndicate that I reported were a group of publicly elected officials and high ranking government employees. The judge then proceeded to make a speech. She then asked the DHS if there were more questions for me and the DHS finally rested. The judge then proceeded to make her final statement and render her decision. I was at the edge of my seat when she said that I was GRANTED the relief I was requesting. I began crying uncontrollably and thanked the judge.
The judge then asked the prosecutor if he wished to appeal the decision. The prosecutor said that I indeed deserved to be granted as he saw nothing negative about my claim. I thanked both of them and was then transferred back to my cell. A few minutes later, I was told the sweetest two words and those words were to "roll up"! I could not believe that I was being ordered to roll up by the correctional officer (CO). The detainees all came up to congratulate me and wish me well. The CO's present congratulated me as well.
I was finally brought back at the "intake" office to get processed out. The ICE officer that forced me to sign my deportation paper was there and just simply gave me a smirk. I quickly changed out of the prison uniform and back into the clothes that I walked in almost 5 months ago. I was told by all the NWDC CO's that they enjoyed having me around but never wanted me back cause I was too much of a good guy. They all wished me the best and kicked me out the front door without nothing more that the clothes on my back and my documents in a garbage bag.
I happily walked the 3 miles to the bus station. From there, I used the bus station attendants phone to call my wife and give her the news. The bus station attendant overheard what I said and he congratulated me and gave me my first cigarette in almost 5 months. He also gave me his employee discount to cover my bus fare to California. My wife borrowed some cash from her sister in order for me to get "home" to them. I did not mind the 26 hour bus ride as I knew I was free and I could finally put all the painful memories to rest.
I got home to my family at around 1:30am on the 17th of June 2011. It was the sweetest time in my life!