Today*, I’m proud to write that LIRS Director for Access to Justice, Liz Sweet, will speak at a Capitol Hill briefing. Sweet will detail LIRS’s work with detained torture survivors and underline the need to protect survivors from immigration detention. I’m proud that LIRS and our partners are able to speak in front of Congress and advocate for this important issue. In this National Action Alert, I’ll fill you in on LIRS’s work with survivors of torture, and why protecting them is part of our ministry.
“When we arrived at the border, the immigration said ‘welcome,’ then they cuffed me on my wrists, waist and legs and put me in a small room. It was very crowded.” The woman giving this testimony is not charged with or convicted of a crime, though her treatment by federal immigration officers might imply otherwise. Her name is Rediet and she is seeking asylum protection in the United States from her native Ethiopia, and that was her ‘welcome’. People who come to the United States seeking asylum have often experienced torture and trauma in their home countries and look to the United States as a place of protection and safety.
The Center for Victims of Torture partnered with the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition to produce the report, Tortured and Detained: Survivor Stories of U.S. Immigration Detention. This report includes interviews from 22 survivors of torture, recounting their time in the immigration detention system after having traveled to the United States in search of protection. Many of these memories include traumatic experiences that, in some cases, have been linked to extreme emotional distress. As Rediet continues with her testimony, she recalls some of these traumatic experiences, “There was no chair, nothing. I slept on the floor for three days. I was only wearing a t-shirt and some pants. It was very, very cold…The first day, they gave us no food or water. No one explained anything. We were just on that cold, cold floor.”
Stories like Rediet’s are why LIRS has responded with ministries of both service and advocacy to support survivors of torture and other migrants who have experienced the trauma of immigration detention. LIRS believes that the government should support community-based alternatives to detention for vulnerable populations such as asylum seekers and torture survivors. Today* at 4:00 pm, LIRS Director for Access to Justice, Liz Sweet, will speak at a Capitol Hill briefing called, “Seeking Asylum at the U.S. Border: Challenges, Gaps and Solutions.” (Readers in Washington are welcome to join at Cannon House Office Building, Room 122.) Sweet will share LIRS’s experiences working with detained torture survivors as well as individuals released from detention through the LIRS Community Support Initiative.
Also speaking will be Yohannes Birhane, a torture survivor who works with Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a LIRS service partner based in San Antonio, Texas. Other panelists include Royce Bernstein Murray of the National Immigrant Justice Center, Katharina Obser from Human Rights First and Annie Sovcik of Center for Victims of Torture, all long-time advocacy partners of LIRS.
This briefing hopes to highlight for members of Congress and their staffs the need for robust protection for refugees, asylees and survivors of torture and the harm caused by immigration detention. LIRS is proud to be a part of this effort!
*A note that this briefing was rescheduled for December 11, 2013 due to inclement weather.