Immigration attorneys representing a group of Salvadorans asked a Los Angeles federal judge Wednesday to ban strip searches of inmates at a new federal detention center in Louisiana.
Claiming that the searches violate their clients' civil rights, the attorneys asked U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon to stop the practice. Kenyon took the matter under submission.
The request for a preliminary injunction against strip searches at the Oakdale Federal Alien Detention Center is part of a broader class-action suit filed against the government by Salvadoran refugees seeking asylum in the United States. That case also is pending before Kenyon.
About 100 Salvadorans are among 300 people in custody at the center, located about 200 miles northwest of New Orleans. The center, operated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, opened in March.
For two months, every inmate was subjected to a strip search after meeting with his attorney or other visitors. However, on May 16, center officials changed the policy to require only random strip searches.
Kenyon said such searches are not required at other INS detention centers. He said the center's director obviously changed the policy "because somebody put the pressure on him."
"The realities are there is no need to do this with these people," Kenyon said, referring to the Salvadorans held there while awaiting deportation hearings.
The judge later added, "a lot of sins have been committed in the name of security."
Assistant U.S. Atty. Ian Fan argued that any legal challenge to the searches should be filed in Louisiana and should apply to all inmates at the center, not just Salvadorans.
According to court documents, the detainees must remove all their clothing. A guard then looks into their ears, mouth, between their fingers and toes, under their genitals and inside their buttocks.
"The humiliation as a consequence of this strip search is so extreme that some Salvadoran women have entirely forgone representation and pursuit of their asylum claim rather than experience the strip search," the documents said.