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Advocates claim detainees were abused at Alabama immigrant detention center

An immigrant advocacy group has accused federal agents of abusing detainees at an immigrant detention center in Alabama.

In a complaint to Immigration and Customs Enforcement filed Tuesday, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement said immigration agents at the Etowah County Detention Center forcibly coerced detainees to sign deportation documents.

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FOR THE RECORD

A previous version of this story referred to a complaint submitted by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement as a lawsuit.

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The complaint, which includes declarations by several current and former detainees, cites "a pattern of routine assaults" at the detention center, as well as race-based harassment and inadequate medical care.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials did not respond to requests for comment about the complaint. Neither did the Etowah County Sheriff's Department, which is contracted by ICE to house several hundred immigrant detainees at a cost of about $45 per day.

The facility, located in a rural area of Alabama, houses mostly long-term detainees who have been ordered deported but who cannot be immediately repatriated for a variety of reasons.

According to the complaint filed by CIVIC, which runs a visitation program at Etowah, ICE officers forced some detainees who became eligible for repatriation to sign travel documents that would allow them to be sent home.

In one 2013 incident, a shackled detainee who refused to sign was beaten, resulting in lacerations on his face, the complaint claims. 

A former detainee named as a witness in the complaint said he saw that man returned to his cell covered in bruises.

"My friend got roughed up from ICE real bad," said Sylvester Owino, a Kenyan immigrant who spent nine years in immigrant detention while fighting for political asylum before being released on bond this year. "He came back and said, 'ICE beat me up.'"

ICE's detention practices have been under scrutiny in recent months.

This week, the Obama administration began releasing women and children asylum seekers who had been held at three family detention centers that had been criticized by members of Congress who toured them recently.

On Tuesday, more than two dozen members of Congress called on federal officials to halt the expansion of California’s largest immigrant detention center over reports of medical neglect at the privately run facility.

Lawmakers cited the recent deaths of two immigrant detainees and a “pattern and practice” of substandard medical care at the Adelanto Detention Facility in a letter sent Tuesday to Justice Department and ICE officials.

Christina Mansfield, the co-director of CIVIC, says her group wants to investigate the allegations of abuse at the detention center and sever the county's contract.

"The men there are in an extremely dangerous environment," Mansfield said. "We're asking for emergency investigations."

kate.linthicum@latimes.com 

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