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During our research, Human Rights Watch received hundreds of letters from people detained by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and held in local jails. Most wrote because they had no family, friends, or legal counsel to turn to and needed to express their desperation, frustration, and fears to someone.

Dear Human Rights Watch:

June 11, 1998
"Since the day I came to America [September 28, 1997], I have not committed any crime. I have never been in any type of prison system but when I came here they locked me up like I'm some kind of criminal...they locked me up along with inmates, people that have committed crimes...that's why I fear for my life....The situation here is no good for me, because they don't offer the basic needs in which to live. The food they give us is not enough to live on. When I request something from the officers they either deny me or tell me to write a request form, which they deny afterwards anyways. I don't have an attorney for I cannot afford one. I escaped from my country's army to come to America, but if I go back now to Iran, the consequences will be deadly."
-P.H. from Iran, Nacogdoches County Jail, Nacogdoches, Texas

February 5, 1998
"Let me inform you that I was violently beaten 10:30 this morning. It was time for my `checkdown' and an officer told me to put my hands on the wall. It's because I asked him to be more gentle that he beat me up. He hit my head into the wall many times and threw me forcefully on the floor. To hold me down, an officer put his foot on my head. I let them do whatever they wanted. Here it is normal for officers to beat detainees without reason....I think your presence here would be indispensable."
-E.M. from Democratic Republic of the Congo, Virginia Beach Detention Center, Virginia Beach, Virginia

June 3, 1998
"Again I ask you to please help me...I don't know what to think, maybe they want me to die in this place....I already paid my time in state prison and now they put me again in prison far away where [my family] can't visit me because it is an eight hour journey. Also, they no longer let us send letters so I had to send this letter out with some county prisoners detained here...."
-F.T.G. from Cuba, Yuba County Jail, Marysville, California

March 1, 1998
"I was born in Hamburg, Germany on January 14, 1948 in a refugee parents came form the U.S.S.R. We were brought to the United States as legal permanent residents by Catholic Services. I'm fifty-years old now and have been in the United States for forty-eight years. In 1990 I went to jail...and when I was ready to go home the INS arrested me. Since September 6, 1996, I have been waiting to be deported. Germany has already told the INS that they will not accept me, have no records of me at all or of my parents either....I always showed up in court and never ran from [the INS]. I asked them to release me and I would go on my own, but they said no one would take me. Why still hold me then? "
-M.J. from Germany, Snyder County Jail, Selingsgrove, Pennsylvania

January 8, 1998
"In June of 1997 my application for immigrant status with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was rejected. Since then, my presence in the United States became illegal, and that is why I was arrested....After the ruling I was placed in solitary confinement, in a cell with no heat and no hot water. I was not allowed to use the telephoneto talk to my lawyer. A Muslim prison employee was prevented from giving me a copy of the Quran. I was not allowed to perform Friday congregational prayers with other Muslim inmates, nor could I go to the gymnasium. To this day, jail management refuses to provide a vegetarian meal. I do not eat meat because of religious convictions. Since my arrest, I have lost 25 pounds...."
-N.S. from Egypt, Mercy County Detention Center, Trenton, New Jersey

November 17, 1997
"[I am] Vietnamese, 21 years old....Because I have no lawyer or legal representative I did not appeal the judge's decision in proper time and from the information from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office I filed a motion to reopen or to reconsider my case along with my political asylum application. [It was] denied on August 1, 1997. Now I don't know what to do and who I can ask for help. Please, somebody help me on this matter. I've been in this detention center for over a year for nothing, we have no sunlight, no fresh air nor life necessity."
-T.N. from Vietnam, Carter County Detention Center, Ardmore, Oklahoma

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