Doctors ordered tests and, eventually, a biopsy of her liver. They cycled through possible diagnoses: cirrhosis, autoimmune hepatitis, then, most recently, primary sclerosing cholangitis—a progressive disease that can ultimately lead to liver failure. According to the report of a physician who reviewed more than 400 pages of her medical records, Dawson needs follow-up appointments with specialists at regular intervals, visits that are difficult to arrange from detention. She has about 10 years to live if she can’t get a liver transplant.
I reached one of Dawson’s six children, her daughter Rickeshia Brooks, while she was traveling home from the Toronto law office where she works—she’d picked up a few essentials before resuming social distancing. Brooks has always been the responsible one, the keeper of paperwork, the advocate. “Although she’s my mother, I feel like she needs me,” she told me. “When I’m not there to give that guidance, she sometimes doesn’t know how to deal with pressure.”
Read: The undocumented agent
Dawson spent two decades in the United States, starting in the early 1990s, before she was deported in 2014 at the end of a four-year prison sentence. The sentence had stemmed from a 1997 drug conviction, after she was caught at the Newark, New Jersey, airport with more than three kilograms of hashish oil taped to her thighs. “When I was young, I made mistakes,” she told me. “I paid a lot for that mistake.”
At the time, she told the court that she had been acting as a mule in order to flee an abusive relationship back home in Jamaica. She was pregnant, so officials granted her temporary release to give birth to a daughter—but she never returned. Police apprehended her 13 years later in Arizona, after she was found shoplifting.
After Dawson was deported to Jamaica, she fell into another abusive relationship, she told me, enduring beatings so severe that she was hospitalized. She fled to a friend’s house, but the intimidation only increased in intensity. Reached in Kingston, the friend told me that Dawson’s partner left a grisly message on her front gate: He’d killed the friend’s dog and hung it up by its neck with a handwritten note saying that Dawson was next. The friend sold her car and gave the money to Dawson so that she could flee to the United States.
Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Dawson’s lawyer had asked ICE to release her on parole while she waited for officials to make a decision about her application for a U visa, which is for victims of crimes. ICE never replied, the lawyer told me.
Then, earlier this month, Dawson became the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit for medically frail detainees. Lawyers quickly filed a motion to get her and other detainees released. But the plaintiffs did not prove that ICE was violating their Fifth Amendment rights by keeping them locked up during the pandemic, a federal court ruled late last week. “There is no evidence of an outbreak at the detention center,” District Judge James L. Robart wrote, “or that [ICE’s] precautionary measures are inadequate to contain such an outbreak or properly provide medical care should it occur.”