Used, Abused, and Forgotten

What happens when you muster the courage to complain that you've been sexually assaulted at an INS facility? Not much.

Laura is 24 years old. Her brown eyes are slightly downcast, her long dark hair accented with two streaks of gold. She came to Florida with her family when she was two and is a typical middle-class American -- except that she neglected to become a citizen. After graduation from a Miami-area public high school, she began studying nursing at Florida Memorial College. But she was more interested in extracurricular activities, which included hanging out with friends of questionable character. In 1998 Laura spent six months in prison on armed-robbery charges, which were reduced to burglary counts on appeal. The conviction alerted the INS, which took her into custody upon her release from prison and initiated deportation proceedings.

"I thought I had my future planned," she says today. "I was going to be a nurse, get married, have a family. Never once did it cross my mind I would end up in this situation. I wasn't criminally active; I just fell in with the wrong crowd."

At Krome Laura's social circle was largely controlled by Borga, her deportation officer, or DO. (Borga is a pseudonym.) "About a month after I arrived, that's when it started," she recalls. "The first day we were introduced, he made comments. Sexual comments. I didn't mind the flirting, but it escalated, and that's when I started feeling uncomfortable. I mean, I didn't think it was appropriate coming from an authority figure.

In the women's section of the Krome detention center, no one knew whom to trust
Steve Satterwhite
In the women's section of the Krome detention center, no one knew whom to trust

"I tried to avoid Borga, but it wasn't in my control. He would come and pull me away from my dorm or wherever I was in Krome anytime he wanted to. In front of others he would talk to me in a rude manner, but once I would be in his office, he was a completely different person. He would tell me how satisfied I will be when he will have me in bed. He would brag about the size of his penis, saying it was big and that he will make me scream for hours. He would show up at the cafeteria, at work, even at my visitation hours on Saturday. His persistence was so obvious to anyone who had senses. It was to a point that one Saturday during visitation, my mother asked me who he was, and I had to introduce him to my mother.

"I didn't know what to do about the situation, though, and I was also afraid to tell anybody. When you are at Krome, DOs are like gods to you. They make you think that your destiny depends on them. For example I had asked Officer Borga if he could give me a bond [for release]. He never told me I wasn't eligible for a bond but kept on giving me false hope."

Dozens of detainees were led to believe that if they only did what their overseers asked, they'd get a break. There are many accounts of guards smuggling in presents for favored detainees -- clothes, cosmetics, marijuana. "Officers would sleep in the dorms with girls," recalls a now-paroled detainee. "One officer gave [a detainee] his cell phone to call her mother. The pretty girls, especially the Hispanics, got more attention than anyone else."

Several women remember the sexy photo shoots: "A bunch of officers used to give girls loaded cameras and tell them to dress up in Victoria's Secret, which they would bring in for them, and take pictures of each other," relates Rosana, a former detainee from Nicaragua who testified before a grand jury last summer. "I was in the dorm one afternoon, and Lissette came in and said, “Do you want to take pictures?' And I said, “Are you kidding? No way.' They would go outside and spread blankets around so it wouldn't look like it was at Krome, and they'd be out there posing, then they'd give the cameras back to the officers to get the film developed."

Sometimes relationships between guards and detainees got serious. Everyone knew, for example, that Lieutenant Clark (not his real name) and Elena from Honduras were in love -- at least that's what Elena said. They exchanged little gifts, and they'd sneak off alone at opportune times. The relationship apparently ended bitterly when Elena agreed to talk to investigators.

Clark's name is mentioned, not affectionately, by almost all the women who have complained. "One day in the hallway outside the cafeteria he asked me to do him a favor," remembers Ginette. "To “please' one of his friends. He never said have sex with him, but that's what I interpreted him as saying. At first I said, “No, I'm not no slut.' Then he said he could talk to the OIC [officer in charge] and get me released. I said, “Do you have the power?' and he said, “Oh, we're like brothers.' Later I was talking to another detainee, and she told me: “He's the greatest; he's about to get me released.' The next thing I know, she's gone, so I went back and told him I would do it. Then I learned the girl had been shipped away to Chicago. She hadn't been released at all. So the day I was supposed to deliver, I didn't show up. Later Clark confronted me outside the lunchroom. He said, “I'll fuck you up.' He grabbed me and shoved me in the corner and said if I ever told anybody what went on, something serious was gonna happen that wasn't good for him or I.

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