Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=185157
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Abuse of sexual minority immigrants in ICE custody is systematic, complaint contends

by Tiffany Lane
April 20, 2011


Thirteen immigrants have lodged an official complaint alleging they were mistreated while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

The 13 say the abuse occurred because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

They filed a complaint through the Chicago Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center to the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

One of the individuals, who was held at the Houston Processing Center in Texas from December 2009 to December 2010, is HIV positive and needs to obtain blood work for his treatment.  In the complaint, he said he was shackled at his feet, waist and hands while having blood drawn.

The complaint quotes Steve as saying, “Even though the nurses and doctors asked them, that they could not withdraw blood like that, the officers from CCA didn’t care, and they had to take blood from my hand, and even though I cried from the pain, they didn’t care.”

Stories of mistreatment in detention centers like Steve’s were common in the complaint by the NIJC. 

Along with medical mistreatment, the complaint included instances of sexual assault, long-term solitary confinement, abuse and discrimination.

The ICE said in a statement released April 13 that it will examine the complaint.

“The agency intends to review the complaint filed and take appropriate action in conjunction with the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to investigate and address the claims within it,” the statement read.

According to the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, there were 63 complaints on conditions of detention in ICE in 2010 and 49 in 2009.  This is in comparison to four in 2005.

There were also eight complaints of abuse of authority in 2010 while there were five in 2004.

Tara Tidwell Cullen, associate director of communication for NIJC based in Chicago, said the government needs to increase its efforts of protecting sexual minorities in ICE custody.

“The government is unable to protect the safety of vulnerable populations including sexual minorities,” Tidwell Cullen said. “They need to stop detaining people if they can’t protect their vulnerability and health.”

She said the incidents are not coming out now because of an increase of cases, but because of increased efforts by the NIJC. Detainees are also becoming more aware of their rights.

“We submitted the complaints as one large complaint to show these aren’t isolated instances occurring in different parts of the country,” she said. “This is systematic reoccurrences of abuse.”

The Prison Rape Elimination Act is the first federal civil law to address sexual assault in prison.  The Department of Justice excluded immigration and detention facilities from coverage under the act, according to a letter addressed to President Barack Obama in February by organizations like the NIJC and the Human Rights Watch.

“We hope the Department of Homeland Security takes these complaints seriously and conduct a thorough investigation,” Tidwell Cullen said.

She said of the 13, one was deported in March and another was deported earlier this month. The remainder plan to apply for asylum or have a withholding of removal order.