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Immigration Advocates Call for Investigation Into Reported Abuses at West Texas Facility

The Immigration detention facility where the alleged abuses occurred is just outside Sierra Blanca in West Texas. (Photo by Tom Barry for the Texas Tribune).

Immigrants’ rights groups in Texas are closely watching the status of some 80 African men they say are facing deportation. The group is part of a federal complaint filed last week against an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Sierra Blanca.

The advocacy groups allege the men at the facility were physically abused by staff, kept in unsafe conditions and denied medical attention.

UPDATE: Twenty-five Somali men who were part of a federal complaint alleging abuses at a detention center in West Texas have now been deported.

The Somali detainees are part of a group of about 80 African men that say they were physically abused while at a detention center in Sierra Blanca. 

Johnathan Ryan says the deported men are going back to a country where they could face persecution. Ryan is with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, one of the groups that filed the complaint with the detention center.  “On the whole, most of these individuals arrived to the United States as refugees back in the early 90s following the breakout of civil war in Somalia.”

Ryan says his group and others involved will continue to call for an investigation into the West Texas facility.


These men, the report say, have lived in the U.S. for decades and have family members who are US citizens, but were unable to gain citizenship themselves.

When the the group of African detained were briefly held in West Texas, the report says they faced threats from guards and were frequently pepper sprayed.

“What should be essentially a waiting room, a place to wait for your departure, became for these people a living hell that lasted in some cases 6 months, in some up to a year and a half," says Jonathan Ryan with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.

In a statement, ICE says it takes any allegation seriously. "ICE maintains a strict zero tolerance policy for any kind of abusive behavior and requires all staff working with the agency to adhere to this policy," the statement reads."ICE has not been made aware of any allegations prior to this initial reporting from RAICES."

Officials with ICE say all allegations are independently reviewed.

The reported abuses happened over a span of a week and a half. According to the advocacy groups, the men have since been moved from the Sierra Blanca detention facility, which is run by LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company.

In the complaint RAICES  -- along with the Texas A&M University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic and the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic --- report that the men were picked up by immigration officials in different ways, some while dropping off their children at school and others at their homes.

For Taifa, one of the detainees interviewed in the report, he was apprehended during a regular scheduled check-in with ICE officials. The advocacy groups say, he's since been moved to three different immigration detention facilities in two states.

In the report, Taifa says officers frequently used racial slurs. "Shut your black a-- up," one Warden allegedly told Taifa. "You belong at the back of that cage.”

Most of these men are most likely facing deportation soon, according to the advocacy groups. “It is our understanding that a large number of these individuals are in the process of being returned to countries where they don’t know the language, where they don’t have family," says Ryan, adding that most of these men face persecution if they return.

If the men are deported, Ryan says RAICES and the other groups will  continue to call for an investigation into the West Texas facility.



Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.