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N MARCH 10, 2008, 39-YEAR-OLD RAMA CARTY, WHO’D LIVED in the United States since he was a year old, became Alien #A30117515 in America’s booming immigrant detention system. At the time, Carty never imagined he’d be shipped to seven detention facilities around the country. Or that he’d help organize hunger strikes in South Texas’ Port Isabel Detention Center, 2,000 miles from his Boston home. Or that he would inspire an Amnesty International investigation into human rights abuses by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Carty was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970. His Haitianborn parents worked there as middle-school teachers. The following year, they moved to the United States, where they also taught. Carty’s mother became a U.S. citizen. When he was 16, she petitioned for her son to become a citizen as well. The immigration agency, Carty says, did not process his paperwork before he turned 18. At that point, he needed to start his citizenship claim over as an adult. For one reason and another, like many legal residents, he never did. He didn’t know how much it might matter someday. Like many legal residents, Carty assumed he had the same constitutional rights as a citizen by virtue of his legal status and longtime residence. When he left prison in Maine after serving two years for trafficking and conspiracy -to distribute cocaine, he found out differently. Immigration-reform measures passed in 1996 made Carty subject to mandatory detention and deportation by ICE after he had served his criminal sentence. “I figured I could get bond and work to reverse the drug charges,” says Carty, who claimed all along he was innocent. “But I couldn’t get bond because of the mandatory detention.” Before a second stiffening of immigration laws in 2006, the official policy for immigrants \(other than icy, Carty probably would have been granted a bond and been given an immigration court date to determine whether he would be deported. But critics of “catch and release” had long complained that too many immigrants were skipping out on their court dates. As the 2006 debate over immigration reform grew toxic in Congress, the Bush administration announced a new policy designed to placate reform opponents: “catch and detain.” The number of detention beds across the country quickly multiplied as the Department of Homeland Security tripled its budget for detention and deportation to $1.9 billion in 2007. ICE began detaining and deporting more legal residents for misdemeanors and crimes of “moral turpitude,” a growing list of offenses that runs the gamut from shoplifting to murder. By 2008, the year ICE deemed Carty a criminal alien, the agency had become the largest jailer in the nation, housing more than 378,000 immigrants in more than 300 private or federally run facilities. The criminalization of immigration has become so prevalent that it has its own buzzword: “crimmigration.” Like other legal residents swept up in the crackdown, Carty found that once he landed in the immigrant detention system, he had no constitutional right to court-appointed counsel. He was herded into a small courtroom in Maine with five other men for his first deportation hearing: a videoconference with a judge that took a few minutes per detainee. “I didn’t have an attorney,” he says. “I had no documents on my immigration case history. I’d never been to Haiti in my life, and Congo didn’t recognize me as a citizen.” “We have our lives invested here and have equity in this country, but there is no consideration for us at all.” -Rama Carty 8 ; THE TEXAS OBSERVER WWW. T EXA SOBS ER V ER.ORG