H-Block escapee Pol Brennan will remain in a Texas jail for several more weeks, and possibly months, after an immigration judge denied him bail.
Brennan is now in solitary confinement in a federal detention center and is likely to remain there at least until September.
The judge declared him a flight risk and a danger to the US public because he entered the US illegally 24 years ago, just months after the famous IRA jailbreak from Long Kesh prison.
In denying Brennan bail, Judge Howard Achtsam dismissed as irrelevant the fact that Brennan was twice bailed from U.S. federal prisons while Britain sought his extradition during the 1990s. Brennan honoured bail terms both times, and voluntarily surrendered himself when told to return to jail.
Achtsam claimed that there were no guarantees that the Belfast man would do so again. An appeal of the bail denial could take four months or longer.
Brennan was detained on January 27 at a U.S. immigration checkpoint 100 miles from the Mexican border for having a lapsed U.S. work permit. He and his American wife, Joanna Volz, had been en route from their Oakland, California home to visit friends in Texas.
A computer background check revealed Brennan’s past as an IRA prisoner and he was ttaken to the Port Isabel immigration detention center in Los Fresnos.
Although he was initially detained over the work permit, Homeland Security prosecutors have since reactivated a dormant deportation case against Brennan, stemming from his illegal entry into the U.S.
Brennan had entered America using an alias months after the escape but was captured in January 1993, when the FBI arrested him in Berkeley, California. He spent most of the remainder of the 1990s in jails fighting British extradition attempts.
Two years after the 1998 Good Friday agreement, Britain dropped its extradition efforts and Brennan has since lived in California while waiting to learn whether his application for political asylum has been approved, or if he will be deported for entering America with a false name.
In 2000 he and three others won the right to stay and work in the US after the British Government withdrew extradition proceedings.
Speaking by phone after the latest hearing denying him bail, Brennan said that he could not understand his current predicament in light of the Good Friday and St. Andrews agreements.
Brennan, a carpenter who is also a certified California building inspector, said that, prior to this episode, his life was perfectly normal.
“Everything was going along. I was looking forward to a good year at my job. My boss was about to give me a raise,” he said.
“It’s just been Kafkaesque,” Brennan added.
“One minute you’re driving along and everything is fine. Then it was like a trap door opening beneath my feet.”
In a separate phone interview, his wife, Joanna Volz, told the Echosaid that neither she nor Brennan were naive concerning the seriousness of the situation. “But to have them say that the guy who just goes to work and comes home and walks the dog is a danger to the community was very depressing,” she added.
Volz said that she felt a startling indication of what the judge is thinking came when he asked Brennan on Thursday whether he wishes to be deported to “Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland”.
She said that, although her husband declined to answer, “It was so weird that he would be asked to decide something like that, when he can’t even get a decent bail hearing.”
Meanwhile, Matt Morrison, one of six former Irish republican prisoners whose deportation proceedings were suspended by then attorney general Janet Reno in December 2000, has said that he almost ended up in the same trap as Brennan last spring. Morrison, who lives in St. Louis, was driving through Texas en route to land he owns in the state when he passed through an immigration checkpoint.
“And the border patrol agent told me that my work permit was about to expire in three days and if I came back along that road, he would arrest me. And I thought it was a joke,” said Morrison. “Little did I know that the guy was telling the truth and that Pol Brennan would face that reality nine months later.”