By VINNY GROSSMAN
In the early hours of the morning, on Sept. 22, ICE agents quietly put Bakhodir Madjitov on a chartered flight back to Uzbekistan, a country he had left 14 years ago. By any reasonable accounts, Bakhodir ranks as a refugee with thousands of other Uzbekis who left the country following the Andijan massacre in 2004. Bakhodir had participated in anti-government demonstrations, making him a target of the state. In 2005 he was detained and beaten by Uzbeki police. The non-profit Borgen Project reports that the Uzbeki government brands refugees “as “traitors,” “criminals,” and above all, “terrorists” after leaving their homeland.” Leaving the country puts them at severe risk of imprisonment, torture, and even death should they return.
A Sept. 14 filing from the U.S. government admits that Bakhodir and other Uzbeki refugees risk bodily harm should they be sent back to Uzbekistan. However, since this has been the situation for decades, it apparently is not grounds for the U.S. to grant asylum on humanitarian grounds.
Bakhodir Madjitov was a “model” immigrant. He worked as a home care aide for elderly and infirm people while raising a family with his wife Madina in Windsor, Conn. He pursued every legal channel for achieving “legal” status, including applying for asylum in 2006 and filing a spousal petition in 2013, which was approved. Still, despite his wife becoming a naturalized citizen in 2015 and being the father of two U.S.-born children, a final order of removal was placed on him. Early in the morning of Dec. 22, 2017, exactly one week before the birth of his third son, Bakhodir was arrested and detained by ICE.
Beaten and sentenced without trial
For most of his time in immigrant detention, which holds an average of 50,000 people a day, Bakhodir has been in the Etowah detention center in Alabama. The privately operated detention center is well known for its abysmal health standards and is famous for its cheap operating costs. The decision by ICE to hold Bakhodir in Etowah, over 1000 miles from his family, appears to have been a cynical ploy to make organizing for his release more difficult.
In late May 2019, going into June, ICE began moving Bakhodir between detention centers, first to Louisiana then to New Jersey. On June 10, a stay of removal was ordered, meaning that he had the right to stay in the U.S., albeit while remaining in detention. Despite that order, ICE agents still attempted to get him onto a plane at JFK Airport, apparently to deport him. Bakhodir refused, standing in one place and reiterating that he had a stay of removal. In the face of his self-advocacy, the ICE agents lied that it was not true.
At a press rally on Sept. 21, 2020, Diana Blank, a staff lawyer at New Haven Legal, described the event: “They roughed him up, they pushed his head against the wall, they twisted his neck, his head flew backwards from the strength with which they had pushed him, and then they took out their tasers and applied electric shocks to his body. He estimates it was for 15 seconds. They did it once, he screamed in pain. They did it again. … He was transferred to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center [in Queens] for treatment for his burns and other injuries. The ICE agents at every moment interfered [in his medical consultation].”
In late March 2020, Blank and Bakhodir’s legal team filed a release request “with copious documentation” detailing Madjitov’s pre-existing heart conditions and the health risk he faced from COVID-19. According to Blank, ICE denied the request, and the only reason given was that he refused to be illegally deported the previous June. A second release request was met with an acknowledgement from ICE that Bakhodir faced severe health risks, but again was denied with no reason given. Ultimately, he was infected with COVID-19. Despite the dangerous situation, Bakhodir was still not released, but rather put into solitary confinement.
Bakhodir’s wife, Madina Mamadjonova, herself a care worker, has been a tireless fighter for justice. Leading up to a last-minute meeting between Madjitov’s legal team and an immigration judge in New York City, Madina spoke at a rally in front of ICE headquarters. She was accompanied by her youngest child, who has never met his father. Her words are powerful in their clarity and strength of purpose. We reprint them below:
“This is a country we knew all the time as a country of justice. Now we are in front of the building that says ‘administration of justice’; it’s a famous pillar of justice. We deserve justice. … Why should my husband be deported for no reason? [Points to son] This boy has never met his dad. ICE took my husband when I was 39 weeks pregnant, when I [already] had labor pain. My middle son has his birthday today, we are celebrating his birthday without his dad for the third time…
“My husband is positive for COVID 19 … History will not forgive it, history will not forget it! ICE will be shamed after years and years … Children and grandchildren who have been separated, traumatized children will remember what ICE did to their families.
“Police and ICE are not for separating families, you are not for separating families [applause]. My children are crying. They need their father. Please be human, where is this justice?
[Points to New York State Supreme Court Building, which bears enscription reading “the true administration of justice is the first pillar of good government”] “It’s written here! Where is that justice? Show me someone. My husband is in jail for three years for no reason. ICE is violating my husband’s rights. I am advocating for my husband … I am doing my best. ICE is not doing good things. History will not forget it. Children are growing up, they are traumatized from this. Not only my children, many many children are crying today because of ICE.
“The whole world is thinking about COVID-19. Whole world is coming together about coronavirus, except ICE. It shouldn’t be like that, we are human. … Please do the right thing. We need my husband home. Free my husband. We need him home today [crowd shouts “Free Bakhodir]. Bakhodir needs to be home, he is a caregiver, he never committed any crimes. He needs to be home with his children, with his wife. You are hurting and tearing up lots of families. You don’t have any right to do that. … Please stop violating Bakhodir’s rights.”