ICE Accused of Retaliating Against Disabled Asylum Seeker

(CN) – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement kept an asylum seeker with disabilities in solitary for months after he requested accommodations, immigration advocates claim in an administrative complaint accusing the agency of violating federal disability laws.

The complaint was filed Friday with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. It alleges ICE and its contractors violated the rights of Anderson Avisai Gutierrez, a 27-year-old Guatemalan asylum seeker who is currently detained at the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana.

The groups filing the complaint – Freedom for Immigrants, Southern Poverty Law Center, Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention and Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center – say two ICE-contracted facilities, LaSalle and nearby Richwood Correctional Center, subjected Gutierrez to an “inappropriate use of segregation and disability discrimination” even after he attempted suicide.

“Despite an attempt to end his own life and severe mental health disabilities, Mr. Gutierrez has been placed in solitary confinement for over eight months, where his mental health has further deteriorated,” the groups said in a statement accompanying the complaint.

The groups also cited a letter from Gutierrez in which he said the LaSalle Detention Facility “is missing a lot of things for the wellness of human beings.”

“Sometimes you miss taking a shower. You don’t eat, because suddenly they forget about you. They forget to wash your clothes. The light is on day and night. 24 hours a day, every day. You are locked up like an animal on exhibition, since everyone that passes can see you,” he wrote.

Gutierrez struggles with the ability to breathe and sleep, which causes loud snoring. He requested to be housed in a cell alone, separate from cellmates who verbally and physically abused him because of this condition, according to the complaint.

The immigration advocacy groups say that both facilities in Louisiana refused to accommodate Gutierrez’s physical disability, without justification, and instead placed him in total isolation.

“Prolonged solitary confinement amounts to inhuman treatment and it’s a serious violation of Mr. Gutierrez’s rights under federal disability laws,” Pilar Gonzalez Morales, senior staff attorney at Civil Rights Education Enforcement Center, said in a statement.

Morales added, “Mr. Gutierrez has the right to receive accommodations for his multiple disabilities, but instead ICE and its subcontractors have chosen to place him in solitary confinement because of those disabilities. ICE’s failure to provide accommodations and to place him in a less restrictive environment are reasons enough to grant humanitarian parole so that he can receive appropriate, community-based care that he desperately needs.”

In addition to his physical disability, mental health providers diagnosed Gutierrez with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as severe depressive disorder, the complaint states.

Jennifer Savage, a volunteer with Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention who visited the asylum seeker, said in a statement that Gutierrez has not received a required mental health follow-up after spending eight out of 13 months of detention in solitary confinement.

ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The National Commission on Correctional Health Care, a nonprofit group, has said people with mental illnesses are “particularly vulnerable to the harms of solitary confinement,” and as a result federal courts have repeatedly ruled that keeping them in isolation is unconstitutional.

American Psychiatric Association adopted a policy in 2012 opposing prolonged segregation of prisoners with serious mental illness, with “prolonged” defined as longer than three to four weeks.

After several months of isolation, Gutierrez reported memory loss, panic attacks, suicidal ideation, nausea and vomiting.

“Yet, despite the mounting evidence, ICE and the facilities have refused to identify and transfer Mr. Gutierrez to a setting where he can receive adequate treatment. Instead, Richwood continued to segregate him in the same unit where he attempted suicide despite evidence that those very conditions of confinement are detrimentally impacting his mental and physical health,” the complaint states, adding that Gutierrez was again placed in solitary confinement after being transferred to LaSalle.

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