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U.S. Detainee Abuse Cases Fall Through the Cracks

Earlier this year, a group of guards at the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny, N.J., allegedly beat up two prisoners — while they were handcuffed, while other guards and their supervising officers watched. The alleged victims weren't regular prisoners — they were immigrant detainees locked up by the Department of Homeland Security prior to deportation.

As NPR's Daniel Zwerdling reports in the conclusion of a two-part investigative series into immigrant detainees, the case of the Hudson County jail suggests detainees who've been mistreated have a hard time getting justice.

To report this story, Zwerdling traveled to two continents, because the immigrants involved in the alleged beatings have since been deported to their native countries.

In Alexandria, Egypt, Sadek Awaed recalled the beating he and another detainee, a Tunisian named Fathi Ganmi, allegedly received from guards at the Hudson jail.

Almost 6,000 miles away in Guyana, former detainee Hemnauth Mohabir — who says he hasn't seen or communicated with Awaed since the incident — told the same story. Names, details and locations all matched. Contacted by phone, Ganmi — now in Tunisia — corroborated key parts of the story.

Medical reports and other documents obtained by NPR support their story. Despite repeated requests from NPR, the jail's director and staff would not discuss the allegations of abuse.

Seeking redress through the courts isn't a likely prospect for immigrant detainees. Few have access to lawyers: Though detained while awaiting deportation, technically they haven't committed a crime, so the constitutional right to free legal counsel doesn't apply.

Legal aid lawyers say they're too overwhelmed to pursue a case against the government. County prosecutors say it's hard to follow up on allegations of abuse, since the alleged victims are often deported before a probe can be completed. Officials at Homeland Security would not confirm whether the department was investigating allegations of abuse at three New Jersey jails that NPR specifically mentioned.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Daniel Zwerdling is a correspondent in NPR's Investigations Unit.