A Prisoner in South Florida Rescued From Anonymity, If Nothing Else

Xiu Ping Jiang: It's not a household name, and it would have never been a newsworthy name except for the day when that woman's ex-husband took two handguns to an immigration office in Binghampton, New York, where he killed 13 students before killing himself. Reporters looking to build a biography of that killer, Jiverly Wong, sought his ex-wife, Xiu Ping Jiang. They found a woman by that name languishing in the immigration courts of South Florida. It wasn't the ex-wife, but this Jiang's own story was too tragic to ignore.

According to the article in the New York Times, Jiang was arrested by immigration officials at the Greyhound bus station in West Palm in 2007, having come there for a waitressing job. From the account of a court appearance in Pompano Beach, it's evident Jiang suffers from a serious mental illness that has placed her in immigration no man's land:

Now 35, she has spent more than a year in jail, often in solitary confinement, sinking deeper into the mental illness that makes it impossible for her either to fight deportation or to obtain the travel documents needed to make it happen, according to a pending habeaus corpus petition that seeks her release. It contends that she is suicidal, emaciated and deprived of proper medical treatment.

Anyone who doubts the mind-crushing cruelty of solitary confinement should read this recent article in the New Yorker. Clearly, it's costly to provide adequate mental health counseling and legal representation for the legions of illegal immigrants in U.S. jails. But the very least we can do is spare them from an inhumane form of captivity.

The reporter, Nina Bernstein, should be commended not just for a moving and important article but for sticking with a subject that -- in this 24-hour-news-cycle-driven media era -- might have otherwise been thrown aside.

In what for me was the most affecting twist in the story, Bernstein describes how Jiang's sisters had never met the man with whom she was briefly married. But in their desperation, they actually hoped it was the mass murderer:

They made a flurry of phone calls, then raced through Chinatown streets in the rain to show a photo of the killer to Ms. Jiang's former boss from Des Moines, who was visiting New York. But he took one look and said with finality, "That's not him."

By then, the sisters seemed to have been hoping for a different verdict, for a link that could suddenly turn the world's gaze to their Xiu Ping Jiang -- long enough, at least, to save her from the dark.


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