Many women seeking asylum in the United States have suffered harm, including gender-based and age-related persecution and violence in their countries of origin. The abuses include rape, forced early marriage, trafficking, forced labor and female genital mutilation. Yet upon their arrival in the United States, these women are held in detention facilities pending the outcome of their cases. There are many problems with the treatment of asylum seeking women in detention. They include:
Conditions: In one investigation of the treatment of women seeking asylum in the U.S., the Women’s Refugee Commission found that those held in prisons face physical and verbal abuse. Also, they frequently endure prolonged detention under conditions that fail to meet international principles of refugee protection and basic standards of decency and compassion. The Women’s Refugee Commission continues to receive information from our partners in the field of unsatisfactory conditions for detainees including lack of access to medical care, mental health services, pastoral care, legal resources and proper food. Such conditions further traumatize those asylum seekers who have already suffered serious abuse and distress in their home countries and during flight.
U.S. Law and Policy: Currently, U.S. asylum laws, regulations and policies fail to provide an expedited and systematic means to identify individuals who have suffered persecution. In many cases, policies and case law have not developed sufficiently to recognize many age and gender-related claims, such as women who have endured domestic violence.
Access to Legal Orientation Presentations: These presentations, administered by the U.S. Department of Justice, assist detained individuals in immigration court proceedings by explaining their legal rights and options. They have increased detainees’ ability to make better informed and thus wiser decisions about their cases. Unfortunately, due to limited funding, few women and children benefit from this service. In addition to working with appropriators to increase funding for legal orientation programs, the Women’s Refugee Commission has begun to informally communicate our concerns regarding the lack of these presentations to detained women and children to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) which administers the program. In 2007 the Executive Office of Immigration review added a pilot children’s Legal Orientation Presentation into their program.
Mandatory Detention: Under current U.S. legislation, individuals arriving in the U.S. without valid documentation are subject to mandatory detention. They are often handcuffed and shackled and taken to detention centers, where they are consequently detained for months or years. Detention centers are often located in remote areas of the United States where few pro bono attorneys are available. Thus, this policy restricts the ability of asylum seekers to pursue their asylum claims by limiting their access to legal counsel and other individuals and services that could support their claims. The detention experience also further traumatizes those who have experienced emotional distress prior to and during their flight.