The plight of Hemnauth Mohabir, a Guyanese immigrant caught in the clutches of the U.S. deportation system, is an exemplary instance of the hardship inflicted upon many thousands by our laws and misuse of our prison apparatus. The chronicle of Hemnauth’s immigrant experience dominates Passaic: The True Story of One Man’s Journey through American Immigration, Detention and Deportation. The book follows him from his roots as the descendant of Indians indentured to the international sugar trade through emigration to the U.S., a felony trial and a rare acquittal tainted only by a petty misdemeanor conviction. Years later, he is arrested upon re-entering the U.S. and fed into the grinding machinery of immigration enforcement. Hemnauth’s old misdemeanor has tagged him an illegal immigrant. He endures gulag conditions at the Passaic County (N.J.) Jail, which is contracted to house immigrants under deportation order. The prison fosters a climate of violence toward and among the men in its custody. It breeds utter hopelessness. Throughout, Hemnauth wages a quixotic struggle against exile and separation from his American child, and another to preserve his humanity in the face of a deliberate campaign to strip him of it. He fails at the first struggle, but succeeds at the second through his valor and spiritual vitality.
Daniel Kunstler is the author of The Butcher Birds, a novel.