New York, NY
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has failed in its duty to protect women asylum seekers in its Miami District, reflecting the lack of centralization, planning and sound public policy inherent in the US detention program, concludes a report released today by the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children.
"Innocents in Jail" assesses conditions for women asylum seekers at Turner Guilford Knight, a Miami-Dade county jail, to which all female detainees in the Miami district were moved, following widespread allegations of sexual abuse at the INS Krome Service Processing Center. While male asylum seekers at Krome continue to receive legal and family visits, women at TGK are treated like criminals and locked up in cells with limited access to lawyers, family members and translation services and inadequate medical care.
"While the INS was correct to remove women from the dangers they faced at Krome, it is disturbing that they lost other critical services in order to avoid sexual abuse," said Wendy Young, Director of Government Relations and US Programs at the Women's Commission and the author of the report. "It is particularly disturbing in the light of the failure of the Department of Justice to date to adequately pursue criminal or disciplinary actions against the officers responsible for those abuses."
Women detainees at TGK wear prison uniforms and are subject to frequent head counts, periodic lock-downs and solitary confinement. They may be handcuffed and sometimes subjected to strip searches. Many of these women do not speak English and are not given adequate access to interpreters, adding to their confusion and their distress. Some of the asylum seekers have been transferred to facilities in other parts of the country, such as York County prison in Pennsylvania, separating them from family members and from their lawyers. Others claim to have been threatened with transfers to other states, including Louisiana and California, for complaining about treatment at TGK. Some women have alleged sexual abuses at the hands of male trustees at the facility.
"There are alternatives to detention, such as supervised release and shelter care," said Mary Diaz, Executive Director of the Women's Commission. "These alternatives have been tested by the INS. There is no need to lock up women who come to this country seeking protection from persecution."
Many of these problems are endemic in the INS detention system across the nation, the report concludes, and can be attributed to the INS's failure to centralize and monitor its detention program. In the report, the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children urges INS headquarters to retain management over detention centers and asks Congress to shift parole decisions away from the INS districts to an objective decision-making body, such as the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review.