José Antonio Hernández Viera says he experienced economic and political persecution in Cuba because of his family’s opposition to the Castro government. His wife is on the road to becoming a legal permanent resident in the U.S. He faces deportation.

By Alexandra Villarreal

A caress and a kiss.

That’s all Angela Mairielys Lazo Torres had time for before guards escorted her from her husband’s hospital room after less than a minute. It had been seven months since she last traveled to Louisiana to see José Antonio Hernández Viera, 40, in detention, and she wasn’t even given the time to tell him, “I love you.”

“They didn’t let me see him,” Lazo Torres, 36, said of the brief interaction. “They didn’t let me speak to him. They didn’t let me do anything.”

That was on Wednesday, June 19. Then, radio silence for the next two days. When she and an outreach paralegal from the Southern Poverty Law Center returned to Acadia General Hospital in Louisiana on Thursday, they were told Hernández Viera no longer appeared in the system. Attorneys contacted the hospital and an assistant warden at Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center, but no one gave them any information about his condition after hip replacement surgery.

“I didn’t know how he was, or where he was, or what was happening to him,” Lazo Torres said.

On Friday, Hernández Viera was transported back to Pine Prairie in handcuffs and chains, he said, his body pushed and jostled into a vehicle with no wheelchair ramp. He was then whisked back to the hospital for more drugs, only to return to Pine Prairie in the early hours of the morning, he and an SPLC lawyer said. As he lay across the seat during the roughly hour-long drive, his head painfully bumped into plastic on one of the doors.

Around 3 a.m. Saturday, June 22, Hernández Viera was finally allowed to call Lazo Torres.

“I told my wife that I felt so bad, in such a bad condition, that I wouldn’t live,” he told NBC.

His suffering was nowhere near over, according to his account. Back at Pine Prairie, he was left in his wheelchair overnight, he said, from 3 a.m. until around 9 a.m. And during the days after his surgery, he tried not to eat much because he feared if he had to use the toilet, no one would help him.

He was treated like an animal, he felt — ”like a person without rights, totally helpless.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Bryan Cox told NBC that ICE could not give specifics about the medical treatment of a particular detainee without his or her written consent, but added that “ICE is committed to ensuring the welfare of all those in the agency’s custody, including providing access to necessary and appropriate medical care.”

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