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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Between the Fences

Before Guantanamo, there was the Port Isabel Service Processing Center

by Tony Hefner

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Something at the Texas detention facility is terribly wrong, and Tony Hefner knows it. But the guards are repeatedly instructed not to speak of anything they witness. In the Rio Grande Valley, one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the United States, good jobs are scarce and the detention facility pays the best wages for a hundred miles. The guards follow orders and keep quiet.

For six years, Tony Hefner was a security guard at the Port Isabel Service Processing Center, one of the largest immigration detention centers in America, and witnessed alarming corruption and violations of basic human rights. Officers preyed upon the very people whom they are sworn to protect. On behalf of the 1,100 men, women, and children residing there on an average day, and the 1,500 new undocumented immigrants who pass through its walls every month, this is the story of the systematic sexual, physical, financial, and drug-related abuses of detainees by guards.

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“The tension within the pages of Between the Fences hinges on the narrator, son of an undocumented Mexican laborer, trained as a protestant minister. Hefner invites the readers to share in his own limitations and frustrations as he struggles to find—then to maintain—the courage to challenge the corruption in the face of indifferent-to-hostile federal agencies.”

“A valuable first-person account of an important and timely subject.”

“People who care about social justice and America's image in the world should read former prison guard, Tony Hefner's disturbing account of sexual and physical abuse at Port Isabel. We need to know. Was Port Isabel an isolated case of prisoner abuse or does similar abuse occur at other detainee centers? Has the abuse ended at Port Isabel or does it still occur?”

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Tony Hefner is a human rights activist and founder of the Bearing Precious Seed Ranch ministry in Southern Texas for local Hispanic children. He has appeared on Inside Edition, PBS, and many other radio and television news programs where he reported the abuses taking place at Port Isabel Detention Center. Tony and his wife Barbara now live in northern Michigan.