Suicide. Self-harm. Medical neglect. Isolated in segregation. Quarantined and left without legal counsel.
More than 100 Cuban men who have been left to rot in remote Louisiana immigration prisons have faced these and other hardships since as early as 2017, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) locked them up.
The men whose stories are told below endured severe persecution in their home country before fleeing to the U.S. They all entered the country legally and are seeking asylum the way the U.S. government dictates. All were found to have a credible fear of persecution or torture in their home country by the asylum officers who screened them upon arrival. None has committed a crime.
Yet, confined against their will, they are effectively denied a fair shot to secure their release.
“The cruel irony is that most asylum seekers who follow the law and present at official ports of entry do not have the right to ask an immigration judge for release from custody,” said Laura Rivera, an SPLC staff attorney. “Instead, their only avenue for release is to ask the very agency that confined them, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”
But DHS is ignoring its mandate to carefully consider requests for release and is instead issuing blanket denials of parole, Rivera said. The men are kept hidden from the outside world, incarcerated and punished for defending their rights, and forced to try their cases before immigration judges who deny them at rates of up to 100 percent. Some have said they are being targeted “simply for being Cuban.”
To help secure the men’s release, the SPLC and the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) – a project of the SPLC that provides pro bono legal counsel to detained immigrants throughout the Deep South – have partnered with other pro bono attorneys and colleagues at Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy (ISLA). SIFI has also approached federal lawmakers and engaged in public advocacy.
In the summer of 2018, the men participated in a hunger strike and peaceful protest to demand that ICE provide them with information regarding their cases. Their requests went ignored. Instead, they were penalized and forced to further withstand the inhumane treatment that has led many to feel as if they are losing their minds.
The situation becomes more dire each day. The men do not understand why the judges dismiss their cases.
The names of the men below have been changed in some instances to protect their identities.
As one of them said, “In Louisiana, they can do whatever they want to you.”
Read their harrowing stories below.
Jose Antonio's Story