Nearly 50 members of the United States Congress have signed onto a letter urging Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to immediately release and halt the deportation of Pastor Steven Tendo, a 35-year-old man from Uganda who has been detained in Los Fresnos for over a year and a half.
Tendo is detained at the Port Isabel Detention Center, where a COVID outbreak has already been documented inside the facility. His asylum case was denied and is pending a decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and a motion to reopen at the Board of Immigration Appeals.
The young pastor has been repeatedly denied parole by immigration officials over the course of his 19-month detention despite the severity of his condition and a mandate requiring Immigration and Customs Enforcement to consider detainees at risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 for discretionary release.
The representatives stated that Tendo has sponsors lined up, does not pose a threat to the community, and that there is reason to believe he will be killed upon his arrival to Uganda.
The letter, dated Tuesday, was signed by 44 U.S. Representatives including Reps. Filemon Vela, Nydia M. Velázquez, Joaquin Castro, Rashida Tlaib, Lloyd Doggett, Vicente Gonzalez, Ro Khanna, Ayanna Pressley, James McGovern, and Joe Kennedy.
Representatives cited “ample evidence” supporting Tendo’s asylum claim and asked ICE to immediately halt Tendo’s deportation, as well as to release the pastor on medical parole.
The request states that ICE would be in violation of both U.S. and international law if Tendo were to be deported.
Representatives wrote, “Removing Pastor Steven under these circumstances would constitute a breach of U.S. obligations under both U.S. domestic asylum law as well as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol and the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment.”
Tendo was first arrested and tortured in 2012 for his human rights and voting rights work with ELOI Ministries, a Christian ministry and advocacy group he founded in Uganda.
His diabetes has worsened at PIDC due to improper diet and medical treatment. He is blind in one eye as a result and is losing vision in the other.
ICE’s latest COVID-19 statistics indicate 133 total documented cases inside the facility since the agency began counting. ICE listed only one of those detainees as under medical isolation or monitoring.
The latest report from Cameron County Public Health, published on Wednesday, stated that 12 employees and 85 detainees have tested positive.
County officials have declined to answer requests for information regarding the case number discrepancies, how the cases are being monitored and reported, and who is reporting the case numbers.
ICE does not report positive cases among its contracted facility staff. At PIDC, an Alaska Native Corporation called Ahtna, Inc. holds the contract for detention staff, while another named Chenega Facilities Management has said it employs maintenance staff at the facility.