As President Donald Trump's administration pushes immigration officials to be tougher on the undocumented, it seems unclear whether they will be able to do so without the help of informants.
However, as it turns out, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may not be willing to help anyone, not even those who are willing to step forward and give them information in exchange for a visa, The Daily Beast reports.
At least that's what Khalid Zafrain's story tells us.
The Sudanese man came to the United States as a refugee after terrorists slaughtered his family and made him a slave.
While working as an auto mechanic in Virginia in 2014, he was caught serving as a drug courier, carrying 59 grams of heroin. He was arrested and remained in jail for eight months before being released on bond.
After his release, he was approached by four people from Sudan who offered him a fake passport. Zafrain told the prosecutor working on his case about this event, and he was later connected with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The Sudanese refugee then undertook a dangerous task, wearing secret recording equipment to meet with the Sudanese men. While the passport was never produced, ICE was able to catch the criminals, who were all convicted.
After the story went public, however, Zafrain was the target of a drive-by shooting, which he said he thinks is retaliation for helping to put those Sudanese criminals in jail.
After the entire ordeal, officials were grateful that Zafrain took on such a great risk. So much so, that during the Sudanese man's sentencing, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia John Fishwick wrote that while Zafrain was carrying “a very large amount” of heroin, “the evidence is that Mr. Zafrain was a heroin courier, not an actual seller of heroin. Of course, heroin conspiracies can’t function without couriers, and other facilitators, but as a courier Mr. Zafrain was not a driving force behind the conspiracy, nor was he a significant player in the overall scheme of things.”
Fishwick then added Zafrain had already spent eight months in jail, emphasizing that any more time in prison would be excessive. Finally, the man was released in 2016 after the judge sentenced Zafrain to time-served.
Unfortunately, Zafrain was arrested once again by ICE agents in March and is now being held at the Farmville Detention Center in central Virginia. As an immigrant with a criminal record, he's facing deportation.
According to Carissa Cutrell, an ICE spokesperson, Zafrain has a “felony drug conviction for possession of heroin with intent to distribute,” which makes him a priority case in Trump's America. But according to Rob Robertson, Zafrain's immigration lawyer, the fact that ICE “[won't] say anything about how he helped them” is quite “interesting.”
“They should show him some respect and not lock him up with people who are going to know that he cooperated,” the attorney told The Daily Beast. “He cooperated with the same people who have locked up all those other people. That’s the concern.”
ICE's HSI has, over the years, helped immigrants in exchange for cooperation. But in most cases, the help they promise doesn't materialize.
Attorney Jason Dzubow documents these cases on his blog, Asylumist, where he writes about the S visas, or special visas meant for informants. His own client was “dropped ... like yesterday’s news” after she helped agents.
“It seems to me that any alien who relies on the goodwill of the government in an S visa case is being taken for a fool,” he said.
What many fear, as reported by The Daily Beast, is that as ICE agents increasingly rely on immigrants for help on finding undocumented individuals seen as high-priority cases under Trump's new rules, these types of “backstabbing” stories will actually keep immigrants from trying to help in exchange for legal status.
But what's even worse is that, in Zafrain's case, he had fled Sudan after having lost everything — including his freedom. Still, after having made a mistake and having paid for it, he tried to help law enforcement and yet, was the target of gang violence as a result of his actions.
Instead of showing him mercy and compassion, they showed him nothing but contempt. Is that the same America whose Statue of Liberty welcomes all, demanding to be given “your tired, your poor, [y]our huddled masses yearning to breathe free?”