FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 28, 2021
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Advocates Call for Shut Down of Louisiana ICE Facilities Where Black Asylum Seekers and Immigrants Suffer Racial Discrimination and Abuse
New Orleans, LA – Today Black immigrants and asylum seekers and advocates at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a complaint urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to fire contractors and staff over racial discrimination and abuse of individuals held at Allen Parish Public Safety Complex and Pine Prairie Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Processing Center, both in Louisiana. The #WelcomeWithDignity campaign joins the complainants in their call for these facilities to be shut down and for the swift release of those detained.
The complaint, filed by Black survivors of ICE detention and attorneys and advocates with the SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI), details the experiences of four previously detained individuals illustrating the abuses they endured. According to the complainants, ICE, Geo Group, and Allen Parish officials denied Black immigrants and asylum seekers basic human necessities, including potable water and necessary medical treatment; physically abused people in detention, including a person experiencing a mental health crisis; threatened lethal force against Black immigrants in ICE custody; threatened Black asylum seekers with punitive solitary confinement in retaliation for peacefully expressing their rights and for their support of the Black Lives Matter movement; and ignored written grievances related to racial tensions between detention officials and immigrants in detention.
“The fact that these brave individuals are willing to come forward after they have been released from immigration detention and are no longer under ICE’s power and control speaks volumes,” said Rose Murray, a SIFI attorney. “As a result of their horrific experiences, they feared for their well-being and even their lives. Every day it grows clearer that these facilities are incapable of operating without violating the rights of those detained as well as U.S. and international laws. Swift action must be taken to shut down these prisons, safely release those detained by ICE and end ICE detention.”
One of the complainants, Mr. Kem, a 40-year-old father from Cameroon, came to the U.S. seeking asylum and was imprisoned by ICE for over a year. In the complaint Mr. Kem shares threats he endured: “I said, ‘Just standing for our rights? How does that mean that we are trouble-makers? [A detention official] said, ‘Don’t try it here, because I have my gun.’ And he said it twice. Not just once. He was threatening us … We are not safe here. I don’t really think that we are safe here … Is this where they kill people? What do they do here to people that are, as he said, ‘stubborn’? Later on, other detainees told us this is normally how the people are being threatened, and they will threaten you within the corridors where there are not cameras.”
“These complaints show clearly why it is so important for the Biden administration to focus on addressing systemic racism in its immigration policies, in particular in its use of immigration detention,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, executive director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “But instead of moving to abolish detention, the Biden administration is now detaining far more people than when it came into office and in conditions like those detailed here. It is past time to change course.”
“These complaints provide further proof of what we know to be true: immigrant lives are in danger anytime they are in ICE custody,” said Cristina Velez, Senior Staff Attorney at the National Immigration Project. “The Department of Homeland Security must not only take swift action to address the abuse and misconduct detailed in these reports, but it must also shut down these facilities, release all individuals, and ensure that they are provided with the support they need to heal and thrive. It is clear that the immigration detention system is inherently abusive and flawed beyond repair. The Biden administration cannot hold off on bold action any longer; it must end the harmful and needless caging of immigrants immediately.”
“Lethal threats, solitary confinement, among other violent tactics exercised against Black survivors held in the ICE detention facilities in question are inhumane and a violation against human rights,” said Dr. Jessica Hernandez, Climate Justice Policy Strategist for International Mayan League. “These tactics are rooted in anti-Blackness and racism that continues to justify excessive force on Black bodies. It needs to be called out, investigated thoroughly by the Biden-Harris administration, and responsible officials who are guilty of using excessive force on Black survivors need to be convicted. More importantly, Black survivors should be provided with the mental health and social services they need to heal from these traumatic ordeals.”
“The reports of physical abuse, racism, and threats to use lethal force by contractors and staff against Black asylum seekers in two Louisiana detention facilities are truly horrific,” said Katharina Obser, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “People who are seeking protection in the United States should not fear for their lives while in government custody. Tragically, this new complaint follows a long history and pattern of abuse—including often against Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQ migrants—at the hands of ICE and contracted officials. In May, Secretary Mayorkas wrote that DHS ‘will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention.’ In line with this principle, WRC urges DHS to shut down these facilities, release those currently detained, and uphold the rights and dignity of all people seeking asylum outside of detention.”
Join the movement and sign our pledge to #WelcomeWithDignity here.
The #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign is composed of more than 85 organizations committed to transforming the way the United States receives and protects people forced to flee their homes to ensure they are treated humanely and fairly. To learn more and join our campaign visit: welcomewithdignity.org