Then Hurricane Dolly slammed into the Lone Star State, sending the Maze prison escapee on new odyssey that landed him in 23-hour solitary confinement in New Mexico, this just weeks after his first months-long solitary stint in Texas ended when a U.S. immigration official decided his “security threat” classification was inappropriate.
Hundreds of immigration detainees were evacuated from the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas the day before Dolly’s July 23 arrival.
Speaking to the Irish Echo via phone from the Otero County Detention Center in Chaparral, New Mexico, Brennan said that he and another prisoner, who also had an escape history, were put in a special mini-van with blacked-out windows for the 14-hour trip to the new jail.
Brennan’s legs were shackled and he had to sit on a metal bench with no cushion for the entire 925 mile journey. He blames extreme temperature fluctuations inside the van – which alternately left him severely chilled from air conditioning, and then sweating profusely from high heat – for making him very sick en route.
“I was sore and in a sorry state when I arrived here,” he told the Echo “It was very stressful.”
Brennan is currently only allowed out of his cell one hour daily for exercise while meals are delivered under his door.
ICE public affairs spokeswoman, Leticia Zamarripa, told the Echo on Monday that Brennan was placed in solitary for “security reasons,” but that his case was being reviewed and he could be returned to dormitory-style lock up in the future.
Brennan was among 38 IRA prisoners who escaped Northern Ireland’s Maze prison in September 1983. Entering the U.S. months later, he lived under an alias in the San Francisco Bay area until arrested by the FBI in January 1993.
In 2000, in the wake of the Good Friday agreement, Britain dropped its extradition request. U.S. authorities then authorized Brennan to work as a carpenter in the San Francisco Bay area while awaiting a rulings on his political asylum case, and deportation proceedings against him for entering the country illegally.
On January 27, he was detained a Texas immigration checkpoint because his U.S.-issued work permit had expired. Brennan had applied for renewal, but had not yet received an updated permit.
Brennan twice honored bond terms when released in the 1990s during British extradition proceedings. However, the judge in his current case, has denied him bail because he deems the Belfast native a flight risk and a danger to society.
On Tuesday, three Congressman, Peter King (R-NY), Richard Neal (D- MA) and Jim Walsh (R-NY), sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff calling for Brennan to be granted bail.
“Mr. Brennan’s continued detention without bond appears to serve no end that is consistent with the interest of the United States to foster a lasting peace in Northern Ireland,” the letter reads.
“With his marriage to a United States citizen and provisions in the law to waive his prior unlawful presence in the U.S., Mr. Brennan ought to be granted the opportunity to contest the charge of removal with the privilege of release on bond. His continued detention is not justified for the security of the United States, or its people, nor is he a flight risk.”
In a phone interview with the Irish Echo on Monday, Rep. King, a former chairman of the house of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, was asked if he thought Brennan should ultimately be allowed to stay in the US.
“Yes I do. My understanding is the only problem with that is that he didn’t file (the work permit renewal form) on time,” said Congressman King.
“As I understand it, he was living here legally and then there was a paperwork error,” he added. “And whether it was his fault or the government’s fault, the fact is, as I understand it, there was no malice, there was no attempt not to file it. So if they are the facts, then he should stay.”
Joanna Volz, Brennan’s American wife of 19 years, told the Echo that she doesn’t disagree with the decision to evacuate a facility in the path of a hurricane. But her husband’s relocation to New Mexico means that visiting her husband will be next to impossible.
“I was seeing him every Saturday for either a half-hour or an hour,” said Volz “Now that is no longer possible. The new prison is in the middle of nowhere. It would be a two-day drive each way for me to see him.”
Brennan’s next scheduled court appearance is on August 12. However, given that the Texas courtroom where judge overseeing his case normally presides was damaged by Hurricane Dolly, those proceedings could be pushed back several weeks, or even months.