On March 19th Benito Vasquez-Hernandez was released from his 905-day stay at the Washington County Jail. Vasquez-Hernandez had recently immigrated to the US and was being held, not for a crime that he committed himself, but because he is the father of Eloy Vasquez-Santiago who is being convicted for the murder of Maria Bolanos-Rivera in 2012. Vasquez-Hernandez was originally picked up in California and taken to Oregon for questioning by the police team handling the case when he shared information about his son that could be used in court, therefore making the 58-year-old “evidence” in the case.
The federal law that has kept him in jail states, “if it is shown that it may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena” the state has permission to detain an innocent individual who happens to have information regarding the crime. Some states have taken action to prevent injustices such as this by adding their own stipulations to the law to keep detainment within reason (if there is such a thing) but Oregon has yet to do so. When considering the detainment of Vasquez-Hernandez, police officials did not want lose subpoena privileges by their “evidence” being deported, which, would have been inevitable seeing that he had been picked up by state officials.
When it was time for trial, Vasquez-Hernandez’s lack of understanding of the American court system complicated his time on the stand. During questioning, his only response was denial of all previous statements incriminating his son and stating that he, himself, was not involved. He was so persistent in his responses that the judge took time to try and explain to him that it was clear he was innocent and was not a suspect in the case. His denial and fear still persisted.
This man had already been in jail for two years and had no interest in returning. If he had known that complying with the court system was not going to send him back to prison, he may have been more open to sharing information. His fear and lack of trust in American state officials drove his decision-making that ultimately killed their star testimony.
In case this story could not get any worse, Vasquez-Hernandez was released after his day in court with $5,982 given to him by the police for his time served behind bars. Oregon law states that detainees in this situation will get $7.50 per day spent in custody. Apparently to the state of Oregon, a day of this innocent man’s life isn’t even worth that because the sum he received was $805 short.
I am all for complying with U.S. laws and have faith in the idea that most are in place to keep us safe and keep certain institutions we depend on up and running but we cannot stand by and let this injustice happen. Whether here legally or illegally, I would hope that all Americans would agree that anyone in jail deserves to know and fully understand their rights. This case to me epitomizes indifference at work. This man needed help and yet no one even knew it. America began as a group of immigrants that wrote the laws for this land after all and I think we need to remember that.