Contact: Cheryl Little, FIAC (305) 573 1106, x 1001
Wendy Young, Women’s Commission, (703) 560-2621
Rachel Watson, Women’s Commission, (212) 551-0959
Women detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) at the Krome Service Processing Center should be released immediately and not transferred to Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC) and the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children said today.
The INS decision to move the 80 women, 55 of them asylum seekers, was prompted by growing evidence of widespread sexual abuse of women detainees at Krome by Immigration and Naturalization Service and Public Health Service officers. But FIAC and the Women’s Commission claim that in transferring the detainees to criminal facilities the INS is breaking earlier assurances that they would look for safe, alternative accommodation where the women would still have access to legal services.
In an October 24, 2000 letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, FIAC and the Women’s Commission called for the immediate release of women asylum seekers and others eligible for parole from Krome and the development of alternatives to detention for those women who cannot be released.
"By moving these women to county prisons, the INS is trying to solve one problem by creating another," noted Cheryl Little, Executive Director of FIAC.
"It is outrageous that the INS is punishing victims of sexual abuse by locking them up in criminal facilities. The men who abused women at Krome belong in jail, not the victims," agreed Mary Diaz, Executive Director of the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children.
FIAC is representing several women who raised allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct in the Krome facility last summer. The Women’s Commission issued a report in October 2000,"Behind Locked Doors: Abuse of Refugee Women at the Krome Detention Center," confirming widespread sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse of women detainees by at least 15 male officers. Together the two organizations presented their concerns to high-level INS and Justice Department officials earlier this year. These officials indicated to the two agencies that they would explore alternatives for housing women other than county jails.
Approximately 65 percent of INS detainees nationwide are incarcerated in county prisons from which the INS rents bed space. These detainees include women asylum seekers who are exercising their right to seek refugee protection from persecution in their homelands -- including rape, honor killings, female genital mutilation, and sexual slavery -- and permanent residents with past criminal convictions who have already served their sentences.
Both FIAC and the Women’s Commission have documented the devastating effect imprisonment in such facilities has on INS detainees. Detainees are often forced to share cells with criminal inmates, deprived of adequate medical care, and denied access to legal assistance. As newcomers are not provided with government-funded counsel, they rely heavily on pro bono legal service providers who are unable to serve the hundreds of county prisons used by the INS.
Wendy Young, Director of Government Relations and U.S. Programs with the Women’s Commission, noted:"We have interviewed many women asylum seekers in county prisons who are lost in the system with no one to help them. By cutting them off from adequate representation, we are running the risk of returning women to thevery abuses they escaped."
"If these women are moved to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, we will be unable to provide them the legal services necessary to seek immigration relief in the United States," commented Joan Friedland, Managing Attorney of FIAC.
FIAC is a non-profit organization which promotes and protects the basic human rights of immigrants of all nationalities. The Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children is the first organization in the United States dedicated solely to speaking out on behalf of women and children uprooted by armed conflict or persecution.