The ACLU of Nebraska filed a federal lawsuit this week against the Cass County Sheriff and Jail Administrator. If the accusations contained within the brief to Nebraska Federal District Court are correct, this case involves numerous shocking, down-right despicable problems with the federal immigration system, and confirms the validity of the fears immigrant women face when confronted with situations of domestic violence,. The case also exemplifies how incarcerated victims of sexual assault face daunting, often insurmountable barriers when trying to seek justice from their attackers.
The brief to the Nebraska court tells the story of 27-year-old Claudia Leiva Deras, who came to this country from Honduras with her mother, who fled her country of origin to protect herself and Claudia from domestic violence. Claudia was living as an undocumented resident in Iowa when in 2009, a domestic violence call resulted in her being detained by immigration authorities. According to the brief, a Nebraska contract with Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE)[RESULTED IN CLAUDIA BEING MOVED BY AUTHORITIES FROM Iowa to A DETENTION facility in Cass County, NE.
It was during her stay in the Cass County Jail that a fellow detainee, who was female, sexually assaulted Claudia by violently digitally penetrating her and who also physically assaulted and threatened her. After the assault, Claudia remained silent because there were no Spanish speaking guards at the ICE-contracted facility. After four months, Claudia did finally did report the assault to a jail employee after a Spanish speaking detainee convinced Claudia to report the crime. Claudia was denied medical care and was told, “Immigration doesn’t pay for that.” She was instead offered a Tylenol. Claudia’s immigration attorney made repeated requests for a medical examination and was repeatedly denied. The sexual assault she had suffered was violent, caused bleeding and continued pain.
The brief goes on to explain how Claudia did eventually receive medical care after she was moved back to a detention facility in Iowa. Claudia’s immigration application was granted under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which provided Claudia with asylum in the U.S. due to her and her mother’s flight from domestic abuse in Honduras. Claudia is now going through the process of becoming a full citizen. It simply took a competent attention from immigration authorities, which should have been present throughout her detention.
The Nebraska ACLU brief states, “Defendants have acted with deliberate indifference to the health, safety, and serious mental health needs of Plaintiff and have subjected her to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of her rights.” The ACLU is suing on behalf of Ms. Deras for compensatory and punitive damages for violating her constitutional and civil rights and for her costs, expenses and attorney fees associated with her ordeal. The ACLU brief states that Claudia “continues to experience serious trauma and mental health problems relating back to the sexual assault she experienced and continues to have a need for one-on-one counseling and mental health care.”
In her willingness to work with ACLU in the filing of this lawsuit, Claudia is taking a stand for immigrant women, survivors of sexual assault and bringing attention to the difficult plight of immigrant women facing situations of domestic violence within our borders.