From H-Block to a Texas jail

Twenty-six years ago, Pol Brennan was an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the infamous H-Blocks of Long Kesh prison, watching his friends die on hunger strike. Today, he is in solitary confinement in a Texas immigration holding centre.

His story is where the war on "terrorism" meets the war on immigrants in the US.

Brennan was born in 1953 in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Belfast, in the British-controlled territories that make up Northern Ireland. Being detained and beaten by British soldiers or the pro-British police force was almost routine. In 1972, aged 19, like many of his generation he joined the IRA to fight for an end to British rule.

In 1976, Brennan was jailed for possessing explosives and joined the "blanket protest" in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. Here, IRA prisoners — subjected to torture and inhumane living conditions — refused to wear the prison uniform, demanding to be recognised as political prisoners.

Brennan shared a cell with Bobby Sands, the first prisoner to die on the 1981 hunger strike for political status. Ten men died in the hunger strike and he lost several other friends.

In 1983, Brennan was one of 38 IRA prisoners who escaped from the H-Blocks. He made his way to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he met and married Joanna Volz, a US citizen. Brennan worked as a carpenter with Volz and his daughter, Molly.

They lived quietly until January 1993, when federal agents arrested Brennan on a British extradition warrant. He was forced to spend more than seven years fighting extradition, and was imprisoned for three of those years — half the time in a building with no windows.

Following the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, the British government finally withdrew its extradition request in 2000. However, even after the extradition request was withdrawn, Brennan still faced deportation proceedings, put on hold while his application for political asylum was pending.

Then on January 26, Brennan and Volz were driving from Oakland to Texas to visit her relatives when they were stopped at an immigration checkpoint, 100 miles inside the US border.

Brennan produced his work authorisation, but the two were detained because it had expired. Agents ran Brennan's name through their computers and, Brennan says, "They acted as if they had caught the terrorist al-Zarqawi, as they huddled around their computer screens. Their little eyes were jiggling in their heads with excitement."

Ignoring evidence faxed to them by his lawyer, Brennan was taken to the Port Isabel Detention Center. Brennan was soon moved to solitary confinement, because, apparently, he was considered an escape risk since he broke out of Long Kesh 25 years earlier.

It was as if they expected the IRA to invade South Texas to free him.

Brennan is locked in a cell 23 hours a day. An immigration judge denied Brennan bail, saying he is a "flight risk" and "a danger to the community". The judge ignored a letter from Brennan's employer saying his job was being held open for him.

Now Brennan will have to go through a pro-forma hearing before the same judge on his political asylum application, then to the Board of Immigration Appeals and, if necessary, to the Court of Appeals.

Brennan is collateral damage in the war on "terrorism". His 32-year-old IRA conviction and the escape from Long Kesh are keeping him from receiving a green card or US citizenship.

Brennan is also a victim, like many millions of others, of the US government's anti-immigrant dragnet. His bail application was refused by an immigration judge so biased that he routinely rules against all immigrants. Popular mobilisation and political pressure aimed at both the US and Irish government is the best way to fight for Brennan's release.

[Abridged from the May 23 US Socialist Worker, http://socialistworker.org. For more information, and to send letters of support for Brennan, visit http://polbrennan.com.]