Statement of Janneral Denson, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (Passenger)

Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Oversight,
of the House Committee on Ways and Means

Hearing on the U.S. Customs Service Passenger Inspection Operations

May 20, 1999

Good Morning. My name is Janneral Denson. I am here today on behalf of myself and my son, Jordan, to tell you what happened to me and my son at the hands of the United States Customs Service and their agents at Jackson Memorial Hospital on February 14, 1997 to February 16, 1997.

I am a United States citizen. I was born, raised and live in Palm Beach County, Florida.

On February 14, 1997, at about 2:00 in the afternoon my flight from Jamaica had arrived in Fort Lauderdale. my scheduled flight to Miami that morning had been canceled by the airline. I had been in Jamaica for two days visiting with my husband and his family. We were attempting to get a visa for my husband to come to the United States and we had been reviewing various immigration documents and notes. I had made notes of information that we would need to know for our meeting with Immigration. I had these documents with me when I returned to the United States. At that time, I was approximately six and one-half months pregnant.

After getting off the plane at the Fort Lauderdale Airport, I walked through the Customs area. The first customs agent stamped my passport and let me pass. As I was walking to the exit door, another agent stopped me and asked to search my luggage. After she searched my luggage and found nothing, she asked why I was in Jamaica. I told her the details of the visit with my husband. I also showed her the immigrations documents, notes, wedding pictures, my birth certificate, my husband's birth certificate, my social security card, and pictures of my two children, Darrick and Breanna.

After showing her these documents, she tore a piece of paper from my notepad and ordered me to write my full name, my address, where I worked, the phone number of my work, and to describe my husband. I did that, gave it to her and she left, leaving another agent with me.

After more than an hour, I told the agent that I was hungry, that I hadn't eaten all day. It was now late afternoon. I was ignored. Time passed and I had to go to the bathroom. I was taken by two agents to the bathroom where they had me lean against the wall, spread my legs, so that they could search me.

After that, they let me go to the bathroom while they watched. I had been wearing a panty liner that day because I had been spotting. They ordered me to show them the panty liner, as well as the tissue that I used to wipe myself after I urinated.

Up until that point I had fully cooperated with them in every way. I then asked to leave but was told that I was going to be taken to a hospital in another city, that City being Miami. I was getting very scared for my children, my family and myself, and told them that I wasn't going anywhere and what was this all about. They ignored me so I took out a piece of paper and started writing down the badge number of each agent. I was also going to describe the way I was being treated. All of my personal belongings were then taken away from me. I asked to call my Mother. She was expecting me and my kids had to be picked up from the day care center. I was getting really scared. She refused to let me call.

The agent then read me some legal rights from a piece of paper and told me to sign it. I refused. I asked to call a lawyer. The agent said what for? I believed I was being arrested and I told her so and your supposed to be allowed a phone call. She refused. They handcuffed me, put me in a van and drove me to Miami.

When we got to the hospital, I was asked lots of questions and my picture was taken.

Later I was taken to a room where they had me change into a hospital gown. A doctor came in and asked if she could examine me. I asked her what kind of examination and she said a vaginal examination. She asked me how far along was my pregnancy. I told her almost seven months, and the doctor turned to the agent and said that I was too far along for such an examination and that I needed to be taken to the Labor / Delivery ward. They handcuffed me again and took me to that ward. After waiting and waiting, they took my blood pressure, did some other tests, and had me give them a urine sample. After this, I was put on a bed and handcuffed to a bed rail. The handcuff was so tight it hurt. I told the agent. She said don't worry about it. I was scared. I didn't know what was happening. I didn't know what was going to happen. The first agent left and another agent came into the room. He loosened the handcuff.

Later, the first agent and the doctor came back into the room and we discussed my pregnancy. At that time, the doctor had a portable sonogram machine brought in because she wanted to check me internally. She then discovered that I had a problem pregnancy. I don't know if you want the details of the problem pregnancy, but the doctor put it in writing and told me to give it to my doctor. Based on her examination with the sonogram, she told the agents that I had nothing inside of me but my child and that there wasn't room for anything else. They then took me off the bed and handcuffed my hands again. I reminded the first agent that I didn't have anything in my luggage, and that I didn't have anything inside of me and I asked if I could go home.

She refused. I was then taken to someplace called ward D. While in the elevator, another doctor told the agent that he didn't believe that I had anything inside me other than my baby. I was taken to a room and again handcuffed to a bed.

That night I asked for something to eat. They gave me some orange juice. Having not eaten all day, I needed something to eat. They put a frozen sandwich in a microwave and handed me the soggy mess. It made me sick to look at it. I was told that I would not get anything until the morning. The doctor then brought in a clear jug of something called Go lyte and I was ordered to drink it. I asked what for? The first agent told me that I had to pass three clear stools before I could leave.

I was scared to death for my child. I told the agent, that's a laxative and pregnant people should not take a laxative. I refused to drink it. They again handcuffed me to the bed, I laid there that night crying for a long time. I then asked if I could call my mother and let her know what was going on. The agent said I couldn't call anyone. In the middle of the night, I had to go to the bathroom. They forced me to use the bedpan. I had a bowel movement and they examined it. After they examined it and found nothing, they handed it to me and made me empty and clean out the bedpan. I was again handcuffed to the bed.

The next morning they gave me a cold breakfast that I could not eat, though I tried. I had some orange juice and water. At that time, I heard the first agent outside my door call me a "thing." She said "that thing's been here since Friday and she won't eat".

That afternoon, the first agent was replaced by another agent. He told me the only way I was going to get out of here was to drink the laxative. I agreed, I didn't know what else to do. He mixed it with juice and ice and told me I had to drink four cups. I started drinking it. There I was, one hand handcuffed to a bed, so scared that I drank a laxative that might hurt me and my child. I threw up. Members of this panel, what was happening to me cannot be described in words and I was forced to drink four cups until I could hold it down.

By the next morning, I passed two clear stools. About four hours later, the first agent returned to take me back to Fort Lauderdale. They say they called my mother. The truth is that they never called my mother. My mother had been calling hospitals until she found me and then an agent told her I would be at the Fort Lauderdale airport in a couple of hours.

I was taken to the Port Lauderdale airport. Nobody was there. They just left me.

For the next two days, I had severe diarrhea and incredible pain. After that, I began bleeding. I was taken to the hospital. After an examination, I was sent home and told to stay in bed. The bleeding never stopped. The pain never went away. Eight days later, the bleeding increased and I was rushed to the

hospital. At that time, the doctors had to perform an emergency cesarean. when my son, Jordan, was born, he weighed three lbs., four ounces. He was taken from me and placed in the prenatal intensive care unit where he stayed for over a month. At this point, we do not know what permanent effects the premature birth will have on my son. There is not a waking hour that goes by that I don't worry about it.

The very fact that I am here, speaking before you, points to the greatness of our country. But what I, and many other African-Americans, have gone through, points to a great failure in our country. Conduct such as this is both illegal and Un-American, and, in the long run, can only serve to drive a wedge between you, the government, and the citizens of our country.