A gay man with HIV from Russia on Thursday testified before a House subcommittee about the mistreatment he said he suffered while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.
Denis Davydov told members of the House Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee he came to the U.S. in 2014 on a tourist visa, a year after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors. Davydov said he flew to San Francisco, which he described as “the best place on this planet for gay people.”
“For the first time ever, it didn’t matter that I was gay,” he said. “I could be open about all aspects of my life. It was magical.”
Davydov said he applied for asylum after his visa expired, “which allowed me to get a job and travel within the U.S.”
Davydov told the committee he traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands in March 2017 for vacation. He said U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the airport arrested him when he tried to return to California.
“I told them I had an asylum case pending, that I’m a resident of California with a Social Security number,” said Davydov. “They accused me of entering the U.S. for the first time and violating my visa. Then they arrested me.”
Davydov told the committee he spent 46 days in ICE custody at the Krome Detention Center in Miami. Davydov said he was housed with 100 other detainees and his health soon deteriorated.
“Within a week of being detained, I developed a fungal infection,” he said. “This caused a rash; I had itchy red spots on my genitals. I also developed a cold and fever.”
“Despite my coughing, sneezing and fatigue, the officers wouldn’t let me rest,” added Davydov. “I couldn’t sleep at night because it got so cold, and it was loud. I developed insomnia from stress.”
Davydov said he soon tested positive for Hepatitis A, but the doctor at the Krome Detention Center “was not concerned about the results, and did not know how to treat my fungal infection.”
“My lawyer explained to an immigration judge that each day I spent in detention put my life in danger, but he didn’t seem to care,” Davydov told the committee. “As an HIV-positive gay man I had a strong asylum case, but he didn’t seem to care. Even though I did everything right in my asylum application, he didn’t seem to care.”
“I got an asylum interview notice while I was in detention, but the judge wouldn’t let me attend,” added Davydov. “He wouldn’t halt my deportation proceedings.”
Davydov told the committee ICE released him after Immigration Equality and members of Congress publicized his case in the media. Davydov also noted at the end of his testimony that he won asylum in the U.S. in July.
“I’m asking all of you sitting before me today to protect the rights of all asylum seekers, so they can find the same relief and security I did,” said Davydov, who was represented by Immigration Equality in his asylum case.
‘Asylum seekers do not need to be in detention’
Davydov is one of many LGBT asylum seekers who have claimed they suffered mistreatment while in ICE custody.
Raiza Daniela Hernández, a transgender activist from El Salvador, on Wednesday spoke alongside Davydov and other immigrant rights activists at an event the Council for Global Equality hosted at the Cannon House Office Building.
Hernández was detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, an ICE detention facility in San Diego that CoreCivic, a private company once known as the Corrections Corporation of America, for seven months in 2017. She said the facility’s staff discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation and gender identity.
Hernández won her asylum case and now lives in Los Angeles.
“Asylum seekers do not need to be in detention,” said Tess Feldman, an immigration attorney at the Los Angeles LGBT Center who represents Hernández.
A dozen gay men and transgender women earlier this year alleged they suffered “rampant sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse” while in ICE custody at the privately-run Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, N.M.
Johana “Joa” Medina León, a trans woman from El Salvador, died in an El Paso, Texas, hospital on June 1, three days after ICE released her from their custody. Medina had been detained at the Otero County Processing Center.
Roxsana Hernández, a trans woman from Honduras with HIV, died at a hospital in Albuquerque, N.M., on May 25, 2018, while she was in ICE custody. She had been briefly detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M. where ICE has created a unit for trans women in their custody.
More than two dozen trans women who were in ICE custody at the privately-run detention center in a June 26 letter complained of inadequate medical attention and said staffers mistreat them. Trans Queer Pueblo, a Phoenix-based group that advocates on behalf of undocumented LGBT migrants, received the letter two weeks after ICE invited a handful of reporters from the Washington Blade and other media outlets to tour the Cibola County Correctional Center.
Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor who suffered persecution in Cuba because he is a journalist, on Sept. 18 won his asylum case. He nevertheless remains in ICE custody at the Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility in Plain Dealing, La.
“No LGBT person, no (person with HIV) belongs in any detention center in the United States,” said Davydov on Wednesday.
ICE defends treatment of detainees
ICE spokesperson Leticia Zamarripa in March told the Blade her agency is “committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement.”
ICE has previously said it spends more than $250 million a year on healthcare for detainees. ICE has also pointed to a 2015 directive that requires its personnel to, among other things, provide trans detainees with access to hormone therapy while they are in their custody.
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) in April introduced the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act that, among other things, end the use of private prisons and jails as immigrant detention centers and require the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, to issue a public report on a detainee’s death within 60 days.
Hernández, Davydov and Jayapal, along with several of her Democratic colleagues, on Thursday spoke in support of the bill during a press conference at the House Triangle after the hearing.