Human Rights and Immigrants’ Rights Groups Submit Federal Civil Rights Complaint After ICE Facility in Louisiana Pepper Sprays 200 Protesting Individuals in Retaliatory Attack

Washington, D.C., April 2, 2024 – Last week, a group of human rights and immigrant rights organizations filed a federal civil rights complaint against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana and its contractors at the for-profit prison company, LaSalle Corrections. The complaint, which was submitted to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, details unjustified use of force, medical neglect, verbal abuse, retaliation, and violations of First Amendment rights during a January 26, 2024 incident wherein ICE officers indiscriminately pepper-sprayed a dorm of approximately 200 individuals and subsequently cut off power and water to the entire unit.

Detained individuals were participating in a peaceful demonstration and hunger strike to protest conditions of their confinement when ICE officials began the attack, marking the blatant violation of individuals’ rights under the U.S. constitution, federal and state law, and ICE’s own legal standards and directives. This incident is the latest in a long history of documented abuses at Winn, some of which were included in a scathing report issued by the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in 2021.

“Individuals at Winn were engaging in their protected right to peaceful protest when they were indiscriminately attacked without warning,” said Sarah Decker, staff attorney at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “This egregious suppression of detained people’s First Amendment rights is only the latest example of the documented history of abuse at Winn and further exemplifies that the only appropriate response is to shut down Winn and release all detained people to their families and loved ones.”

“What is occurring at Winn Correctional Center under the supervision of the New Orleans ICE Field Office is horrific,” said Tania Wolf, Senior Project Coordinator at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Individuals detained are being denied basic human dignity: they have little to no access to potable water, are served expired food, are being denied adequate medical and mental health care, and are subjected to physical assaults and verbal abuse. The real immigration crisis in the Southeast U.S. is mass immigration detention, and detaining individuals in punitive, abhorrent prison-like conditions. Urgent, immediate action must be taken by the Biden Administration to prevent the contract renewal at Winn Correctional Center, set to expire in May of this year. The Administration has the power to stop allowing private prison companies to profit off the pain and suffering of human beings and instead invest our tax dollars in public education, affordable housing, healthcare programs, and other community-based initiatives that benefit everyone in our communities.”

“The Biden administration went from promising to roll back federal contracts with private prison companies, like the one that runs Winn, to siding with them throughout the past three years,” said Mich P. González, Member of the Southeast Dignity Not Detention Coalition & Associate Executive Director of Freedom for Immigrants. “Whether it’s the repeated decision to ignore the peaceful protestors inside detention who risk violent retaliation to expose the cruel conditions that contributed to another premature death, or their renewal of contracts with these unethical companies at the expense of investments in healthy, sustainable jobs in places like Winn Parish where they’re so desperately needed, this administration continues to cast aside immigrant lives as bargaining chips and political pawns to further an agenda of dehumanization and genocide. We demand President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas listen to their own oversight agency and stop sending people to Winn. We demand this administration prioritize human life and dignity over corporate profiteering. Shut it down!”

The participating organizations, which include The Southeast Dignity Not Detention Coalition, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy, Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU of Louisiana, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild, are requesting an immediate federal investigation into the incident.

About Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that has worked to realize Robert F. Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world since 1968. In partnership with local activists, we advocate for key human rights issues— championing change makers and pursuing strategic litigation at home and around the world. And to ensure change that lasts, we foster a social-good approach to business and investment and educate millions of students about human rights and social justice. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Twitter: @RFKHumanRights.

About Freedom for Immigrants

Freedom for Immigrants is a directly impacted woman-led non-profit devoted to abolishing immigrant detention while ending the isolation, dehumanization and disempowerment of people inside.

About the Southeast Dignity Not Detention Coalition

The Southeast Dignity Not Detention Coalition is a powerful grassroots group of immigrants, legal advocates, organizers, and community activists working to end immigrant detention across the southeast U.S. beginning with closing all facilities overseen by the abuse-plagued New Orleans ICE Field Office.

About the Southern Poverty Law Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people.