Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

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Torture: Help survivors in detention receive legal services

Marie* (a pseudonym) had never heard of political asylum when she crossed the U.S.-Mexican border five years after escaping from prison in a repressive West African country. Although she had never been involved in politics, Marie was abducted, raped and tortured by government agents only because of her father’s activities with an opposition political party. She was terrified of being deported back home, and was a legitimate candidate for political asylum. But she spent months in immigration detention before finally being released.
If Marie had been assisted by the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), a service the U.S. Department of Justice provides to immigrant detainees, she would have been informed of her legal options soon after being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). But like thousands of other asylum-seekers, Marie was kept in a harsh, jail-like facility that brought back memories of prison in her country.

Since 2003, the Justice Department has funded nonprofit organizations to provide asylum-seekers like Marie and other detainees with free workshops on immigration laws, court procedures, and referrals to pro bono attorneys. According to the American Bar Association, LOPs help detainees make sense of their legal situations and gain access to legal resources, “enabling them to appear in immigration court with a better understanding of the court process and their legal rights.”

However, LOPs operate in only 10 percent of the more than 250 immigrant detention facilities throughout the country. TASSC, as well as many faith-based, human rights, immigrant advocacy and legal service organizations, call on the Department of Justice to expand LOPs to all detention facilities, and to ensure that legal counsel is available to torture survivors and other vulnerable immigrants. 
You can help by signing this petition, which TASSC will present to officials in the Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review.
Provide torture survivors in immigration detention with Legal Orientation Program and free legal representation
By Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) International
To be delivered to the U.S. Department of Justice

As torture survivors flee for their lives, most of them carry the heavy weight of multiple and cumulative traumas in addition to the on-going traumatic experiences that can be associated with being a refugee. Receiving asylum in the United States can be a lifeline to safety and provide a path to healing. However, when asylum seekers arrive at a U.S. border or port of entry, they are frequently shocked at the treatment they endure upon reaching a perceived destination of safety and protection, as they are arrested, shackled, and confined.

Due to the long-term impacts of torture and trauma, the fact of being detained at all is often re-traumatizing for survivors of torture. Further, particular elements inherent in the detention experience – including a profound sense of powerlessness and loss of control – may recapitulate the torture experience. Beyond this, the indefinite nature of immigration detention is a blanket over it all, contributing to severe, chronic emotional distress. In less than three years – from October 2010 to February 2013 – the United States detained an estimated 6,000 survivors of torture as they were seeking asylum protection.

Given the extreme hardship, particularly in light of less expensive and more humane alternatives, survivors of torture should not be detained. Once detained most asylum seekers do not have access to legal information and representation. Only 14 percent of the asylum seekers in immigration detention have access to the legal orientation program (LOP) or some form of legal assistance. Most of the asylum seekers including torture survivors are forced to represent themselves; some lose their legal battle and are deported to the country where they were tortured or persecuted.

There are important steps that the Department of Justice can take to mitigate the harmful impact of detention on survivors of torture and improve the immigration detention system overall, including:

  • Expand the Legal Orientation Program to serve all detention facilities used  by ICE and guarantee that all immigrants in detention receive a legal orientation Program as soon as possible; and
  • Establish systems for government-funded counsel for survivors of torture and other particularly vulnerable immigrants in detention.

Please sign this petition and help torture survivors in detention facilities. Then send it to a friend!