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LOS ANGELES, June 26, 2018 — Today, Freedom for Immigrants (formerly known as CIVIC) released the first national study focusing on abuse motivated by hate and bias toward asylum seekers and other individuals in U.S. immigration detention.
“We are releasing this report at a critical moment in our nation’s history, when more parents and children are being thrown into immigrant prisons than ever before. While the Trump administration is seeking to expand immigration detention by 15,000 new jails cells for mothers, fathers, and their children, abuse motivated by hate is flourishing with impunity,” said Christina Fialho, the co-founder/executive director of Freedom for Immigrants.
In its report, “Persecuted in U.S. Immigration Detention: A National Report on Abuse Motivated by Hate,” Freedom for Immigrants documented at least 800 complaints of abuse motivated by hate or bias in 34 immigrant jails and prisons since the inauguration of Donald Trump. For example, an individual detained in Southern Texas was called a “monkey” before being thrown into solitary confinement. In Louisiana, a woman reported that she received poor medical care as a result of her hijab and practicing her faith. A man detained in California reported not being let out of his cell and forced to shower in front of male officers due to his sexual orientation. As these stories show, often hateful language is accompanied by physical abuse, sexual harassment and denial of access to vital resources.
While Freedom for Immigrants has witnessed a rise in abuse motivated by hate and bias in U.S. immigration detention under the Trump administration, these kinds of incidents were also happening under the Obama administration. We filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for incident of and responses to complaints or grievances related to “hate crimes” or incidents motivated by prejudice in ICE-contracted immigrant prisons and jails from fiscal year 2010 through July 19, 2017. On October 19, 2017, we received a response with a total of only 86 reported complaints in this nearly seven-year period, indicating that DHS is clearly not properly categorizing or tracking abuse motivated by hate and bias.
The report highlights 49 of these stories of abuse by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) guards and contracted immigration prison guards. These incidents of hate and bias are broken up into five categories of discrimination: on the basis of perceived race, ethnicity, nationality; perceived religion; perceived gender identity; perceived sexual orientation; and perceived disability. The stories were gathered through visits, phone calls, and letters, as well as through reported complaints obtained through a FOIA request to the Department of Homeland Security.
“Through these anecdotes, we’re putting this system’s racism and hate on display so the public can witness the vile and unacceptable mistreatment of immigrants at the hands of the government,” said Liz Martinez, Director of Advocacy for Freedom for Immigrants. “It is especially concerning that the Trump administration’s dehumanizing language toward vulnerable communities has coincided with increasingly aggressive immigration enforcement policies, encouraging reckless behavior across federal agencies.”
“I felt persecuted by the deputies; they treated us like cockroaches and isolated me because I help my community and I’m an open lesbian,” said Nancy Mayer Mejia, a member of Freedom for Immigrants’ Leadership Council who was previously in ICE detention at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, California. “I’m asking this honorable country for political asylum. Here I’ve felt like a human being whereas in my own I’ve suffered physical, mental and psychological abuse. But in detention I was made to feel like a worm, like I was worth nothing.”
“The function of ICE detention is to indefinitely cage people in intolerable conditions and isolate them from their loved ones so that they lose hope,” said Rebecca Merton, National Visitation Coordinator and Independent Monitor for Freedom for Immigrants. “Many people are defending themselves against deportation to countries where they fear torture or death on account of persecution due to ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other identity. By unleashing state-sanctioned hate and violence on immigrants in detention, ICE is attempting to force people to choose between two places where they are targeted for abuse. The American public will not stand for this, which is why more and more people are rising up and demanding the abolition of ICE.”
We are working to abolish immigration detention altogether. In the meantime, to prevent these kinds of systemic issues from happening, we recommend passing a moratorium on all immigration detention expansion and construction, while cutting funding for all involved federal agencies, such as ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). We also propose investing in true community-based alternatives to detention.
In addition, we recommend that DHS’s Office of the Inspector General be given adequate resources to monitor and investigate complaints lodged against ICE officers and contracted prison guards and staff, who should be immediately fired if a complaint is substantiated.
Read the report at freedomforimmigrants.org/report-on-hate.