Just before Thanksgiving, Governor Ralph Northam announced German citizen Jens Soering had won parole. A former honors student at UVA, he was imprisoned as a teenager for the brutal murder of his girlfriend’s parents. Soering spent more than 30 years in prison. Now, supporters in Germany are awaiting his return, but he’s still stuck behind bars in Virginia.
Because his student visa expired more than three decades ago, Jens Soering is being deported, but first he was sent to a detention center run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE.
“Thank you for calling Farmville Detention Center,” began the recording when we called to see when Soering might be headed home.
“To leave a message for a resident, press the pound key. To leave a message, you must have a pre-paid account and know the residents ID.”
We didn’t know Soering’s ID and had no account, nor did the recording say how we might get one, so we move up the food chain.
“Office of detention and removal operations in Richmond, Virginia,” said this second recording. It then informed us that we could dial our party’s extension at any time, but we didn’t have a party.
“If you need further assistance," said the recording, "please press zero, followed by the pound sign.” We did so, only to hear a busy signal. And so we moved up again.
“You have reached the Department of Homeland Security, Washington Field Office,” said this phone tree. Its message lasted about two and a half minutes and offered seven options including a promise of information on someone in ICE custody.
“To hear location and contact information for detention facilities housing ICE detainees in Virginia, please press two," it instructed. Once we did that, a recorded message informed us: "You have been forwarded to a voicemail system, however the mailbox of the person at 6254 is full."
We were told the call would be transferred to an attendant. Instead, another recording indicated that, "A valid attendant number has not been specified. Your session cannot be continued at this time. Please try again later."
We did, sitting thru the message again until we reached this intriguing option.
"If you are calling from a Congressional office or for media inquiries please press six."
That seemed like just what RadioIQ needed, but when we hit six we were told: "That selection is not recognized. Please make another choice.”
We pressed on to option seven – for all other inquiries. The phone rang several times and then we were told, "You have been forwarded .. 6321 is full transferring to an attendant. A valid attendant number has not be specified at this time. Please try again later. Goodbye."
Maybe this telephone misadventure is a sign that ICE is understaffed and underfunded. It is holding or keeping tabs on over 130,000 undocumented people on any given day, but when we finally reached a public affairs specialst for the agency, we learned it had 20,000 employees and a budget of $8.8 billion.
The spokeswoman sent an e-mail but didn’t respond to our request for an interview. She said she could not tell when Soering might be released but indicated that on average it takes just over a month to deport a detainee.