Broward News

Feds Stonewall on Charges That Detainees Are Chained All Day, Even in Therapy

Feds Stonewall on Charges That Detainees Are Chained All Day, Even in Therapy
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
For years, South Florida detainees have told lawyers with the nonprofit Americans for Immigrant Justice about abusive and unlawful mental health treatment behind bars, including almost round-the-clock physical restraint and monitoring.

Based on those claims, the Miami group in January 2017 requested contracts and other documents related to what goes on inside local detention facilities. But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stonewalled for two years. Now, the group is seeking a federal judge's help. 

In a lawsuit filed last Tuesday, AIJ attorneys contend the agency’s delay “is impeding AI Justice’s efforts to educate the public about ICE operations in general and to inform the immigration bar regarding ICE’s detention practices and policies in particular,” reads the complaint, which was filed by attorneys Allison Norris and Lisa Lehner.

“Further,” it says, “ICE is hindering AI Justice’s ability to effectively advocate for justice and fairness for immigrants subject to these abusive and excessive practices.”


ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias declined to comment on pending litigation.

Advocates have long reported poor treatment of immigrants locked in detention. In 2012, some members of Congress requested a case-by-case review for every detainee in the Broward Transitional Center, a Pompano Beach facility run by controversial prison giant GEO Group, after one detainee staged a hunger strike and another was sexually assaulted with a Sharpie marker.

AI Justice attorneys have frequent contact with detainees through weekly “Know Your Rights” presentations at facilities including the Broward center. They also represent some of them in court. Since 2015, the group says, many of those who receive mental health services have described poor treatment.

Among their claims: Detainees are handcuffed, waist-chained, or otherwise restrained for almost 24 hours a day, including while in therapy. They are unchained only while bathing. Detainees have also described being excessively and inappropriately monitored: Even while sleeping, detainees have said, they often have two GEO guards in their rooms.

AI Justice first requested policies regarding restraint and monitoring of detainees, among other things, in January 2017. ICE responded a month later, confirming it had received the request. Nine months after that, the agency sent a “final response” containing just a subsection of an unidentified document from 2013, claiming it was the only relevant information.

The advocacy group appealed in December 2017. ICE’s Office of the Principal Legal Advisor found the agency had indeed failed to thoroughly search for the documents the immigration advocacy group was seeking. ICE said it would reopen the request. More than a year has passed, but AI Justice says it has gotten “no substantive response.”

In addition to ordering the immediate release of the records, the group wants a judge to declare that ICE's delays and failure to properly respond to its requests violated the Freedom of Information Act.
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas