Waco organization fighting for immigrant’s prison release

The Waco Immigrants Alliance has been constantly protesting the detention of Estela Briceno Fajardo, an illegal immigrant and contributing member of the community. Photo courtesy of Manuela Galan

The Waco Immigrants Alliance has been constantly protesting the detention of Estela Briceno Fajardo, an illegal immigrant and contributing member of the community.

She has been in jail without a trial for three years, where the Waco Immigrants Alliance claims that she has been abused. In June, the Waco Immigrants Alliance released a petition to the media for external investigation of the jail in front of the sheriff’s office and has recently renewed their fervor. Sheriff Parnell McNamara has agreed to reopen the investigation into the guards’ conduct, but Hope Balfa Mustakim, executive director and community organizer of the Waco Immigrants Alliance, claimed all they did was interrogate Fajardo for four hours to get the statement they wanted but did not investigate the guards’ conduct. Now the organization is protesting the neglect and retaliation they say Fajardo is facing from the guards.

McNamara said that they got on the investigation right away, that he trusts the quality of the investigators’ work and that as far as they can tell, there was no abuse.

According to the sheriff, Fajardo has criminal charges pending, but she also has an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer. No matter how much people call for her release, McNamara said they have to keep her until the detainer is completed. According to ICE, she’s been kicked out of the country before, and she came back illegally, McNamara said.

“She’s not only here illegally, but she returned illegally. A lot of people don’t want to put that part of the story out there. No one is trying to mistreat her in any way, but she does have to remain in jail — and she is still facing deportation,” McNamara said. “We’re trying to keep her as comfortable and as safe as possible in the meantime.”

According to Mustakim, Fajardo has been victimized and exploited her whole life: She escaped an abusive family member in Mexico when she was 14 years old, an abusive husband in the U.S. and now Mustakim claims on behalf of Fajardo that guards have been targeting her. A self-made business and land owner and member of the Hispanic chamber of commerce, Fajardo was breastfeeding when she was taken to jail.

“She has maintained her innocence and has not accepted a plea deal, even though it would mean being with her son,” Mustakim said. “We get so upset about family separation at the border, but here it is happening right under our noses.”

Her trial is scheduled for Dec. 11, but even then if she is vindicated, Mustakim said it would be a bittersweet moment — it won’t be a victory because she will have lost those three years of her son’s life, and the dignity she had before.

“She has been incarcerated for three years, and due process has been ignored. While she’s been in prison, she’s been assaulted, shamed and retaliated against,” Mustakim said.

According to Mustakim, Fajardo told her the guards have taken away her medicine, given her medicine she knew she was allergic to and, when she has reported abuses, she was retaliated against. She says she has been refused her nerve and psychiatric medicine and has suffered severe withdrawal symptoms. The guards wrote her up for tying a towel on her head to relieve the pain, which meant she was stripped of privileges like phone calls and visits.

“When that’s all you live for, those privileges are not small,” Mustakim said.

The Waco Immigrants Alliance says they are afraid for Fajardo’s life because of the mismanagement of her medical care. They say the mistreatment seems intentional because Fajardo going to trial could damage the McLennan system — they have had someone detained for three years, so having her back in community and fighting for justice for inmates could have severe consequences.

“As a civilized society, we cannot overemphasize the need for accountability for jail staff,” Mustakim said.

According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, McLennan County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy David Kilcrease said that Sheriff McNamara has a reputation for fighting for the downtrodden.

“What is important is this sheriff is nationally known for his stance in protecting illegal immigrants, especially helping them escape from sexual exploitation,” Kilcrease said to the Tribune-Herald at the time of the protest. “This sheriff has proven he doesn’t have a problem arresting officers, especially at Jack Harwell, because he has done it before. We are not here to cover for officers of LaSalle Corrections, nor are we here to cover for any officer. I think these people have picked the wrong sheriff in trying to make these allegations because of his track record on these issues.”