Australian man sues Mexico for 4-month detention

An Australian man has filed what activists said Tuesday is the first lawsuit by a migrant against Mexico's immigration service, arguing he suffered economic, psychological and other damages from being detained for more than four months with little explanation and in poor conditions.

The migrant rights group Sin Fronteras, which is assisting Australian Stephen Compton in his 2.1 million peso ($168,000) damage suit against the National Immigration Institute, said many other migrants have been detained for long periods in Mexico but that none before sued over the practice.

Compton, a 47-year-old artist and decorator from Dalby, Australia, had been living in the Mexican resort city of Acapulco on an expired tourist visa since 2004, but argues he was eligible for a 2007 amnesty for overstayers.

Compton said he was picked up by immigration officers in a hotel lobby in Acapulco in November 2009 and was asked to accompany them to their "offices." He was taken instead to a migrant detention facility in Mexico City where he had to sleep in a lobby — separated from the rest of the detainees, he was told, because he is gay — and did not have regular access to showers or a telephone.

He also said he wasn't told how long he would be held or when he would be released.

Compton later found out he was being held pending expulsion, but a judge overturned the expulsion order last January. Despite that, he was held at the facility until late March, before being released.

The Immigration Institute said it had no immediate comment to the allegations.

Perseo Quiroz, a lawyer for Sin Fronteras, said current law gives immigration officials overly broad discretion on how long to hold foreigners and under what conditions.

Most people in such facilities are undocumented migrants from Central America, and activists say they have interviewed detainees who have spent as long as eight months in such facilities.