NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and several other human rights and civil liberties organizations sent a letter to Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, calling on her to fix the deplorable conditions at the South Louisiana Correctional Facility in Basile. Conditions at the immigration detention center are so bad that last week detainees there launched their fifth hunger strike protest. Six detainees have been sentenced to 60 days in solitary confinement in retaliation for acting as human rights monitors at the facility.
"Countless firsthand accounts of deplorable and inhumane conditions at the South Louisiana Correctional facility have been ignored by prison and immigration officials," said Judy Rabinovitz, Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "Secretary Napolitano should take immediate action to fix the conditions which have forced detainees at the facility to risk their own lives by staging hunger strikes."
In the last month, the facility has become a symbol of national concerns about Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) widespread failure to ensure that its facilities – particularly local jails housing immigrants as part of intergovernmental service agreements – meet its own minimum standards.
According to the letter, "[n]ot only have a large number of detainees filed grievances and requested meetings with jail and ICE staff, detainees have launched four hunger strikes to obtain basic necessities like soap, toilet paper, communication with their families, and information about their legal cases. In the face of this human rights work and peaceful action, ICE and jail staff have responded with aggressive disciplinary action including blocking detainees' access to legal representatives."
Over 100 detainees from over 10 countries have served as human rights monitors exposing inhumane conditions at the facility. Six of those detainees who acted as human rights monitors in the detention center and who were perceived as leaders of the hunger strike have been sentenced to 60 days in solitary confinement after attempting to communicate grievances to ICE or jail staff, according to the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice.
"Solitary confinement as punishment for speaking out about human rights abuses is unconstitutional and unconscionable," said Rabinovitz. "Until there is outside oversight and monitoring of the prisons where immigration detainees are held, detainees have no choice but to speak up for themselves."
The letter, sent late last week, asks Secretary Napolitano to allow a national delegation of detention advocates from across the country to visit the Louisiana detention center to speak with detainees and investigate conditions there. It also calls on ICE to release detainees serving as human rights monitors from solitary confinement and cease retaliation against detainees for reporting human rights standards; to arrange a meeting between DHS delegates and human rights monitors at the jail; and to cancel its contract with the Basile facility if the violations aren't remedied immediately.
The full text of the letter is available online at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/nationalsecurity/40579prs20090803.html
A report in which 100 ICE detainees chronicle abuses they suffered while detained in Basile is available on the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice at: www.nowcrj.org/