August 28, 2008
By Jim Dee
JUST weeks after three congressmen called for Maze escapee Pol Brennan to be released on bail from a Texas immigration jail, an appeals court has upheld his earlier bond denial, making it all but certain that the Belfast native will remain imprisoned until his next scheduled court appearance on September 24.
In issuing its ruling on Tuesday, the Board of Immigration Appeals in Falls Church, Virginia, agreed with the Texas judge who denied Brennan bail in April on the grounds that he was a danger to society.
The court cited Brennan’s 1984 entry into the U.S. using a false name, and his later purchase of a targeting pistol using an alias, as proof that he had criminal tendencies. The court also noted a 2005 misdemeanor assault conviction, which Brennan received after an altercation with San Francisco contractor who’d refused to pay him $1,000 in wages owed.
Although Brennan has always insisted that the contractor assaulted him first, on advice from his lawyer he eventually pleaded guilty and subsequently paid a $1,500 fine and performed 500 hours of community service.
However, unlike Judge Howard Achstsam who has been overseeing Brennan’s case since he was stopped for having a lapsed U.S. work permit at a Texas immigration checkpoint in late January, the Board of Immigration Appeals court didn’t find that Brennan is a flight risk.
Last month, three congressmen – New York Republicans Peter King and Jim Walsh, and Massachusetts Democrat Richard Neal – called for Brennan to be granted bail pending the outcome of deportation proceedings against him. They had insisted Brennan is not a flight risk, and cited the fact that he had twice been bailed from U.S. jails without incident when Britain was seeking his extradition in the 1990s.
Speaking to the Irish Voice on Tuesday, Brennan’s lawyer, San Francisco-based Jim Byrne, said that the fact that the appeals board ruled Brennan was not a flight risk was a positive development.
“We were glad that they overturned the judge on the issue that he was a flight risk, “ said Byrne, “But I disagree with the ruling that he is a danger to the community.”
He said he now plans to appeal the bond denial to a higher court.
Brennan was one the U.S. 38 IRA prisoners who escaped Northern Ireland’s Maze in September 1983. He entered the U.S. months later, and was eventually caught by the FBI in Berkeley, California in 1993.
Two years after 1998’s Good Friday peace agreement in the North, Britain abandoned its extradition case against him. U.S. authorities then granted him a work permit that allowed him to work as a carpenter in the San Francisco Bay area.
On January 27, while driving with his American wife of 19 years to visit friends in Texas, Brennan was detained at an immigration checkpoint because his work permit had expired. Although he’d applied to renew his permit, authorities hadn’t yet sent it to him by the time he was stopped.
Department of Homeland Security prosecutors now want to deport him for entering the US using an alias in 1984.
Brennan was held at Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas from January until later July, when the jail was evacuated as Hurricane Dolly approached on July 22. Since then Brennan has had three prison relocations which have taken him across nearly 2,000 miles of Texas and New Mexico in less than two weeks.
He is currently at the Willacy County Processing Center (WCPC) in Raymondville, Texas, a private prison run by Utah-based Management and Training Corporation (MTC).
Speaking to the Irish Voice from WPPC on Tuesday, Brennan said that he is particularly frustrated by the fact that the misdemeanor assault continues to disadvantage him.
“It was self-defense,” he said “The guy got aggressive with me first.”
“I’m disappointed with the ruling, but I’m not surprised,” he added. “I wasn’t expecting anything different. But now we’ll take it to the federal level.”