The appalling treatment of a transgender asylum seeker held in US detention has drawn a lawsuit from the ACLU.
The suit is against the federal government, local government and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and charges that they failed to protect Tanya Guzman-Martinez from sexual violence, assault and other mistreatment.
Guzman-Martinez was being held at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. She was sexually assaulted by a guard who threatened to deport her back to Mexico if she did not comply with his demands. Pinal County court records show that the guard was charged with ‘attempted unlawful sexual contact’ but was only sentenced to two days, with time served.
After the sexual assault, she was placed back in a male population rather than in a woman’s cell and suffered further abuse including another sexual assault.
The accusations, according to the ACLU court papers, include that “on one occasion, a detention officer told other detainees that they could ‘have her’ if they gave him three soup packets.”
Alessandra Soler Meetze of the ACLU of Arizona said:
“They did nothing. They failed to protect her from abusive staff members. They failed to protect her from male detainees.”
ACLU of Arizona Immigrant Rights Attorney, Victoria Lopez, said:
Tanya left Mexico to seek refuge from the persecution she suffered because of her gender identity, and was exposed to even greater trauma at the hands of immigration officials who failed to take appropriate measures to protect her while she was in their custody.
A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Arizona, Amber Cargile, told Fronteras Desk:
While U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on pending litigation, the agency is firmly committed to providing for the welfare and humane treatment of all those in its custody. ICE is currently in the process of implementing comprehensive reforms to the agency’s detention system. The reforms are designed to prioritize the health and safety of detainees in ICE’s custody, while increasing federal oversight and improving the conditions of confinement within the detention system. ICE is focused on sensible, sustainable reforms that are attentive to the unique needs of the individuals in our custody.
Although Guzman-Martinez was released from detention more than a year and a half ago, she still suffers from the emotional pain she endured while at Eloy.
The US has come in for consistent criticism over persistent sexual abuse in immigration detention centers and its refusal to extend the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to those in immigration detention. The ACLU has gathered more than 185 reports of sexual abuse in immigrant detention facilities across America, which they say represents a small proportion of cases.
ACLU of Arizona cooperating attorney Kirstin Story, of the law firm of Lewis and Roca LLP, said:
When we tout our country as a beacon of freedom, fairness, and individual liberties for all, the United States, as well as state and local governments, and the people and entities with whom they routinely contract, must live up to those values, especially for those people who seek refuge in this country because of those values. Unfortunately, that did not occur in the Tanya Guzman-Martinez case and in many others. We hope that this lawsuit is a step toward remedying these failures.
The ACLU-AZ report “In Their Own Words: Enduring Abuse in Arizona Immigration Detention Centers,” details further maltreatment of other LGBT detainees.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
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