Attorneys fight deportation of Ugandan pastor

Attorneys for 35-year-old Pastor Steven Tendo are actively fighting his imminent deportation to Uganda.

Tendo called from the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos just past 8 a.m. Tuesday to advise that his deportation officer had visited his dorm the night before and informed him the agency would transfer him to Louisiana, then deport him.

Two minutes into the conversation, guards arrived in the dormitory, purportedly to take Tendo from the facility.

The pastor has made clear that worsening diabetes has left his body too weak to physically resist boarding a plane as he was instructed by his attorneys.

“ I don’t know what to do,” he said as the guards arrived.

He hung up the phone. The arrival of the guards turned out to be a quick visit. The pastor said his messaging capabilities had been cut off the night before. He said he would try to call back, but did not.

Tendo’s attorney Jennifer Harbury said, “On Tuesday he was told he was going to Laredo, but no one would say which facility. He had decided that he would not take an unlawful deportation without a fight, but a large group of ICE agents tackled him and shackled him as they knelt on his back. He is in pain as a result but he stood up for himself.”

Late Tuesday night, Tendo called Harbury from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility located in Alexandria, Louisiana — a major deportation hub. He had been driven four hours up the border to Laredo to be transferred to another state.

Harbury learned on Wednesday morning that ICE planned to transfer Tendo again, to a facility in Florence, Arizona, north of the border at Nogales. Tendo’s attorneys finally located him when he called from the Florence Processing Center on Wednesday night. According to Harbury, his deportation has been tentatively halted until early next week, but is still set to move forward.

Tendo’s diabetes became severe over the course of his 20-month detention and he suffers from weakness, severe kidney pain, recurrent boils, and diabetes-induced cataracts that have left him fully blind in one eye.

Court documents allege that ICE has repeatedly refused Tendo a suitable diet for a diabetic and that he has not been adequately treated for the condition over the course of his detention, causing his health to deteriorate severely.

The pastor was scheduled to have an emergency eye surgery in Harlingen on Thursday after a five-month wait. He wrote in a message last week that he didn’t believe it would actually happen.

The surgery was scheduled promptly following the filing of a Bivens lawsuit on behalf of Tendo, as well as a letter signed by 44 U.S. Representatives urging Department of Homeland Security Acting Director Chad Wolf to immediately release Tendo and halt his deportation.

Amnesty International and other groups have stepped in and are calling on ICE to stop Tendo’s removal and release him on parole so he can access adequate healthcare. Tendo’s attorneys have notified the United Nations and members of Congress.

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com