Today, on World AIDS Day 2011, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) is launching a campaign to end the inhumane detention of immigrants and asylum seekers living with HIV. While detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), HIV positive immigrants face conditions that violate both international human rights norms and DHS’s federal detention standards. In particular, these individuals are routinely deprived of critical medical care for prolonged periods of time, transported between facilities without regard to their ongoing medical needs, and housed in conditions that subject them to increased risk of illness and infection.
“HIV positive immigrants should not have to choose between fighting their immigration cases from a jail where their health is seriously compromised on the one hand and accepting deportation to countries where they face persecution and near certain death on the other,” says Keren Zwick, the supervising attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative.
NIJC’s client, Karolina, a transgender woman with advanced AIDS, has been detained for more than 21 months. In addition to battling AIDS and its associated symptoms, Karolina has experienced extreme depression and anxiety while in DHS custody. To alleviate these humanitarian concerns, NIJC requested that Karolina be released from detention while her immigration case works its way through the court system. DHS has failed to respond to this request made nearly two months ago.
Alexis, a gay teenager from Mexico whom NIJC also represents, learned of his diagnosis shortly before he was taken into DHS custody. Although he immediately informed jail staff of his status, he received no treatment for nearly six weeks. In the two months since Alexis was taken into custody, he has been housed in five facilities in three states. Because of these frequent transfers, he has experienced lapses in his medical treatment.
World AIDS Day provides a unique opportunity for the U.S. government to end detention of immigrants and asylum seekers living with HIV, and to ensure fair and humane treatment of all individuals.