By Steve Weinstein
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But before 9/11, lots of aliens like Walters were subject to standing orders of deportation that nobody ever acted on. It was understood that unless the INS actively went after you, you could probably stay in the country indefinitely.
But by June of 2002, the world had changed.
Around 7 a.m. on a June day in 2002, Walters was jolted awake by the sounds of policemen banging on his stateroom door. He was aboard a cruise ship docked in the Port of Miami, and he was still groggy after a late night of raising money for Tom Joyner's charity fund.
Aragones opened the door to find two agents from U.S. Customs there to escort Walters off the Royal Caribbean cruise ship and into the arms of the Department of Homeland Security.
It wasn't the first time Slick Rick had cruised from Miami. In 2000 and 2001, he'd taken similar trips.
"Every year, you go on the same cruise," he says. "You're not going to get the impression that you're going to get deported for going on the cruise with everybody else."
But this time, customs officers walked him off the cruise ship in front of the same crowd that had spent the week applauding him as he raised money for black college students. After spending two hours in a customs holding area, Walters was arrested.
"They told me, 'There's something wrong with your reentering into America' and that they would have to detain me until it was figured out," Walters says. "I was under the impression that it wasn't going to be a long thing. Worst-case scenario: maybe a couple of days."
Then he was told that there was an immigration warrant calling for his arrest. "They asked him if he wanted to go to London right then," Aragones remembers. "They would ship him out within ten days."
When Walters refused, he was loaded into a car and sent for detainment.
"It was all superscary," Aragones says. "When they actually took him, I watched him leave, and I was hysterical. I was crying, he was crying, and the officer that was actually with Rickwe were both so emotional that even the officer looked a little teary-eyed."
After a few days of being held in Miami's Krome Detention Center, he was told he was going someplace new.
"I just woke up one day and they said that they were moving me to another place," he says.
He was put on a bus with bars on the windows. His hands and feet were shackled to a chain around his waist. For hours, he jostled along Florida roads, not knowing where he was going or how long he would be there.
He was headed to the Bradenton Detention Center on the western flank of Florida, where he would be held while the newly formed Department of Homeland Security exhumed his immigration case in a post-9/11 world.
Back in Miami, Aragones was frantic. She hired a Miami immigration attorney named Alex Solomiany.
"No one told us anything about being arrested if he left the country," she says. "They were supposed to say something, but they never, ever did. The whole time he was on parole, the warrant was never served. He owns property. We've lived where we've lived since he's been out. Why didn't they tell us? Why did they arrest him now?"
"I'm just assuming that it's because of everything that's going on now and they're trying to tighten the security," Walters says.
Two years ago, Solomiany brought in additional muscle from Ira Kurzban, a lawyer who had represented Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Kurzban says that Walters was one of the first of many aliens who suddenly caught the government's attention after 9/11, when the agency that had replaced the INS under the new Homeland Security Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, integrated its records with the FBI's computer system, he says.
"We have a lot of people who traveled out before September 11 and nothing ever happened," he says. "And then they traveled out again on what may have been their 35th trip out, and now because of the integration of Immigration's system with the FBI's system, all old criminal convictions come up at customs.
"I think, though, that it's hard for somebody to understand when they've traveled so many times," Kurzban says. "At the time it happened to Ricky, it wasn't common. He had an outstanding order of deportation, and although it's not that typical, the government had the right to take him into custody."
Jeanne Butterfield, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyer's Association, says officials weren't under any obligation to warn Walters.
"There's no right for immigrants in that sense," she says. "He's assumed to know that if he lost his appeal, the original order stands."
By the time he arrived at Bradenton, Walters was a detained alien with an uncertain future. A ghost in a blue jumper, he floated through the Florida prison awaiting his fate.
One of only two facilities in Florida specifically reserved for immigration detainees, Bradenton was in bad shape during the 17 months Walters spent there. It has since been closed because federal and county governments couldn't agree to pay for its upkeep.