SIERRA BLANCA, TX – “Monkeys,” “animals,” “stupid motherf****ing Africans,” and “terrorists.” Today, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), Texas A&M School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, and University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic jointly filed complaints demanding the U.S. Attorney investigate the abuse of approximately 80 African men previously detained for civil immigration reasons at the for-profit West Texas Detention Facility in Sierra Blanca, TX.
Complaints filed with the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, the Office of the Inspector General, and local authorities demand investigations into these abuses. Advocates also filed a Request for Precautionary Measures with the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and a request with Immigration and Customs Enforcement requesting an exercise of prosecutorial discretion be made on behalf of several of these detained men.
The detained Somali survivors of this abuse face imminent deportation. RAICES, Texas A&M Law, and University of Texas Law demand that these individuals not be deported so that they can participate in the process of holding the detention center accountable for the abusive and illegal treatment they received.
Despite having lived in the United States for decades, with U.S. citizen spouses and children, some detainees found the detention conditions so unbearable that they prefer to be deported to Somalia, where they fear for their lives, rather than remain detained in the U.S. any longer.
Interviews with more than 30 Somalis, now held at the Coastal Bend Detention Facility, show a consistent and alarming pattern of abuse include unprovoked physical assaults by staff, sexual abuse, racial slurs, insults, threats, indiscriminate use of pepper spray, inappropriate use of solitary confinement or segregation, prolonged shackling, denial of medical and mental health care, and exposure to unsanitary conditions.
The warden told one Somali immigrant, “Shut your black ass up. You don’t deserve nothing. You belong at the back of a cage.” He called another Somali man “boy” and said “you’re my bitch.”
The Somali men reported numerous physical assaults, including being beaten, punched, kicked, and slammed against walls. In one case, an officer elbowed a Somali national six times on the back of his neck while handcuffed and held down. The warden repeatedly punched another detainee in the face. Officers pushed a third detainee so hard while shackled that he injured his leg and cracked a tooth.
The men were kept in filthy, freezing conditions with mold in the showers, poor ventilation, and no hot water. One detainee reported that they were crammed into the building like a “chicken coop.”
Large groups of Africans were pepper sprayed, resulting in rashes, burning eyes, and persistent coughs. Officers placed many men in solitary confinement simply for requesting underwear, medical care, or for no reason at all.
Officers denied health care to many individuals with serious conditions, including those who had suffered severe injuries before being detained, such as broken bones, gunshot wounds, internal bleeding, and a collapsed lung. Detainees generally received only ibuprofen, if they were given anything at all.
They also denied psychiatric medications to individuals with mental illnesses, including one person who was experiencing hallucinations.