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SPLC: Guards and other detainees at Stewart immigrant detention center bullied and harassed gay detainee

A detained immigrant complained of constant, unrelenting and unchecked bullying as well as graphic sexual harassment from guards and other detainees who directed derogatory comments and obscene gestures toward him because he is gay, and he was informed that his only recourse was to be isolated in solitary confinement, according to a complaint the SPLC sent today to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The complaint accuses DHS of failing to protect this young man, identified in court documents as F.A.C.P., from discrimination and sexual abuse that other detainees and detention center staff inflicted on him. It further alleges that DHS exacerbated F.A.C.P.’s mental health by housing him in disciplinary segregation, or solitary confinement, in violation of DHS’ own detention standards.

“F.A.C.P. came to the United States to escape the violence and persecution in his home country, only to be housed in prison-like conditions at the privately operated Stewart Detention Center, where he has encountered other detainees who mistreat him and unsupervised guards who turn a blind eye or join in,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director of the SPLC. “Detention staff at Stewart not only harassed and abused F.A.C.P., but outrageously retaliated against him when he complained about it, in clear violation of Department of Homeland Security standards. Sadly, F.A.C.P.’s experience is neither unique nor unusual – DHS has a long, painful history of failing to protect LGBT individuals from harm while they are detained, even after multiple complaints and lawsuits. DHS needs to investigate the deplorable harassment and abuse of this man and other vulnerable detainees, and take steps to ensure that this discriminatory treatment stops.”

In the complaint, which is addressed to Elaine C. Duke, acting secretary of DHS; John Roth, the DHS inspector general; and Cameron Quinn, the DHS officer for civil rights and civil liberties, the SPLC outlines the persistent harassment, abuse and mistreatment that F.A.C.P. experienced at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia – an immigrant detention center for men operated by CoreCivic, a private prison company formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America.

The complaint summarizes the ways in which Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), a division of DHS that oversees the detention center, has failed to protect F.A.C.P. from discrimination and sexual abuse. It also requests specific relief to remedy the discrimination that he received, and seeks a better outcome for other LGBT detainees housed at Stewart.

F.A.C.P. is a 19-year-old immigrant from Honduras who has been held at Stewart for more than 11 months. He fled his home country out of fear for his life because he is gay and has been repeatedly threatened by gangs there.

In his own words in a sworn declaration, he said, “The discrimination I experience at Stewart is worse than what I experienced in Honduras. It happens more often, and being in detention, I can’t escape my harassers. I fear for my personal safety at Stewart, because of the persistent harassment by detainees and guards, and the lack of precautions by the staff.”

Nearly every day since his arrival, detainees have been harassing F.A.C.P. because he is gay. On several occasions, he was mocked for using the urinal, and was told that “women sit down when they urinate.”

On another occasion, a detainee harassed F.A.C.P. in the shower. Standing naked in front of him, the man said that if he were in his home country, he would rape F.A.C.P. When F.A.C.P. complained, detention staff only moved the man to an adjacent unit, which meant that F.A.C.P. continued to encounter his harasser on a daily basis.

Detention staff and other detainees frequently used anti-gay slurs directed at F.A.C.P., and staff routinely dismissed his requests for help. One guard’s behavior was particularly offensive. “In my mind, there were only two ways to interpret his behavior. Either he was threatening me with sexual assault, or degrading me because I am gay.”

Despite F.A.C.P.’s complaint and an investigation that followed, there was no finding against the guard. When F.A.C.P. asked for protection, he was told that solitary confinement was his only option.

F.A.C.P. has experienced severe depression at Stewart, and has had occasional thoughts of suicide. On several occasions, he sought medical assistance for his condition and was denied.

When he lodged a complaint about the staff’s failure to treat his depression, he was placed into solitary confinement, directly across from a cell where another detainee had recently committed suicide, and this made him think even more about killing himself.

“Stewart management failed to protect F.A.C.P. and has even responded by telling him that he is the problem,” said Dan Werner, director of the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI), an SPLC project that provides pro bono representation to detained immigrants in the southeastern United States. “Without SIFI staff on the ground working with detainees in this remote facility, this type of harassment would go unreported and unaddressed by CoreCivic, ICE and DHS officials. People who have come here to seek asylum have not even been accused of breaking any law, but are kept effectively in a prison operated by a private company that has been shown time and again to be incapable of providing constitutionally adequate protection and care to people in custody. The results are predictable: guards allow and even foster an environment of abuse, and the most vulnerable pay the price.”