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 retraumatizing 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% 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 forced to represent themselves and some lose their legal battle and deported to the country where they were tortured or persecuted…