US Citizens have Joined Survivors to Show their Concern About Foreign Aid to the Tyrant Ethiopian Regime

June 26, 2012

The Honorable Mike Kelly
U.S. House of Representatives
515 Cannon

Dear Congressman Kelly,

My name is Sara Dickson.  I am a college student interning in Washington this summer and participating in a project to support torture survivors. Students and survivors have joined the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC International) this June — Torture Awareness Month –to share our concerns with our elected representatives.

TASSC was founded in 1998 by Sister Dianna Ortiz, a U.S. nun tortured in Guatemala. It is the only organization in the United States founded by and for torture survivors. Its mission is to both empower survivors, their families and communities and to end the practice of torture worldwide. From the basement of a Franciscan College in Washington, DC, TASSC refers survivors to medical, legal and psychiatric services and assists them with basic needs such as food and clothing during the asylum process. Every June TASSC brings survivors to Washington for a week to heal together and advocate against torture.

We would like to discuss two issues with you today.

First, we are very concerned about torture survivors and other vulnerable individuals incarcerated in immigration detention centers by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The overwhelming majority of the 400,000 immigrants who are detained have committed no crime, and should not be subjected to cruel, unnecessary practices.

Survivors are denied freedom of movement inside these jail-like facilities, they have little recreational activity or privacy even to go to the toilet, and they are forced to communicate with family members through plexiglass barriers. Many spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement or may be chained for up to 12 hours a day. These horrible experiences re-traumatize survivors, since these jail-like facilities remind them of when they were imprisoned and tortured by their own governments.

Unless immigrants pose a danger to the community or a flight risk, they should be offered community-based Alternatives to Detention (ATDs) instead. ATDs are both more humane and less expensive. They are also an effective way to allow torture survivors and asylum seekers the opportunity to present their case to an asylum office.

Religious and human rights organizations take responsibility for survivors—they manage their cases much like TASSC does, providing legal referrals and making sure they appear for their scheduled appointments with immigration judges. While there is currently no specific legislation about ATDs, we are aware of privately-funded pilot programs in Washington State, New York, Texas and other states that could be funded by DHS or the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) once their success has been demonstrated.

Second, we want to express our concern about the horrendous human rights violations committed by the government of Ethiopia, which has tortured many TASSC survivors, including some individuals visiting congressional offices with us. We join Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in encouraging the Obama administration and Congress to review US policy toward Ethiopia, including military and development funds. We urge you to apply diplomatic and other means to ensure that Ethiopia complies with US human rights standards if it continues receiving US funds.

Thank you so much for taking the time to meet today with our delegation of students and torture survivors.




Sara Dickson
20829 US Highway 6 & 19
Saegertown, Pa 16433


Phil Austin
Kaitlin Murphy
Fayera Sobokssa