Saturday, November 9, 2013
A recent report by the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) and the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition International (TASSC), Tortured and Detained: Survivor Stories of US Immigration Detention, chronicles the stories of asylum seekers and details the physical and psychological agonies of detention.
As they flee for their lives, most survivors of torture carry the heavy weight of multiple and cumulative traumas in addition to the on-going traumatic experiences that can be associated with being a refugee. Receiving asylum in the United States can be a lifeline to safety and provide a path to healing but when asylum seekers arrive at a U.S. border or port of entry, they are frequently shocked at the treatment they endure upon reaching “safety” and “protection,” as they are arrested, shackled, and confined. This report estimates that in less than three years – from October 2010 to February 2013 – the United States detained approximately 6,000 survivors of torture as they were seeking asylum protection.
In conducting interviews with asylum seekers and survivors of torture who have been held in immigration detention, the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) and the Torture Abolition Survivor Support Coalition, International (TASSC) found that asylum seekers are often in disbelief that they have been criminalized by virtue of trying to find protection. They describe feeling dehumanized by the conditions under which they are held—both in short-term holding cells managed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and in the detention centers used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They recall the utter state of confusion and isolation they feel as they are held with limited access to information about their situation and without knowledge of when—or if—they will be released. Moreover, while in custody, many suffer an on-going sense of dread at the possibility they may be returned to the country in which they experienced torture and/or other forms of persecution and/or in which they fear being subjected to future torture or other forms of persecution.
Detention is a daunting experience for anyone but particularly egregious for survivors of torture. Given the extreme hardship, particularly in light of less expensive and more humane alternatives, survivors of torture should not be detained. Nevertheless, when they are, ICE should seek to facilitate their safe and supported release as soon as possible, including by ensuring they have access to legal information and legal counsel at every step along the way. and trauma, the fact of being detained at all is often retraumatizing. Further, particular elements inherent in the detention experience—including a profound sense of powerlessness and loss of control—may recapitulate the torture experience. Beyond this, the indefinite nature of immigration detention is a blanket over it all, contributing to severe, chronic emotional distress.
This report offers several recommendations of steps that Congress, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice can take to mitigate. For further discussion of the report, click here.