Immigration detainee Alexander Martinez inside the Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, La., on July 30. “I just want what everyone wants,” Martinez said, “to get out, be free and help support my family.”
WINNFIELD, La. — Alexander Martinez says he fled from homophobia, government persecution and the notorious MS-13 gang in El Salvador only to run into abuse and harassment in America’s immigration detention system.
Since crossing the border illegally in April, the 28-year-old has bounced between six facilities in three states. He said he contracted COVID-19, faced racist taunts and abuse from guards and was harassed by fellow detainees for being gay.
“I find myself emotionally unstable because I have suffered a lot in detention,” Martinez said at Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana. “I never imagined or expected to receive this inhumane treatment.”
He’s among a growing number of people in immigration detention centers nationwide, many of whom, like Martinez, have cleared their initial screening to seek asylum in the U.S.
The number of detainees has more than doubled since the end of February, to nearly 27,000 as of July 22, according to the most recent data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That’s above the roughly 22,000 detained last July under then-President Donald Trump, though it’s nowhere close to the record in August 2019, when the number of detainees exceeded 55,000, ICE data shows.
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