NIJC Tells Congress: Defund Abusive Detention System Now
As Congress deliberates the Trump administration’s request for a historically inflated budget to expand the immigration detention and deportation system, a new report from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Office of Inspector General details appalling human rights and due process violations harming more than 3,000 men and women detained at five large immigration prisons.
The investigation was prompted by reports from the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and other nongovernmental organizations citing ongoing human rights violations in the DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention system, as well as calls from detained immigrants to the Inspector General’s complaint hotline. Reports in 2015 and 2016 from NIJC and other nongovernmental organizations found that ICE’s inspections system relies on pre-announced visits to detention centers, obscures egregious rights violations and may have even contributed to preventable immigrant deaths.
“As Congress pours billions of taxpayer dollars into maintaining the flawed immigration detention system, the Inspector General found that companies and local governments responsible for protecting the most basic human rights of the people in their care have failed as they have profited,” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “Sadly, these findings are not new. ICE’s inability to provide for the safety and health of the tens of thousands of immigrants in its custody has been documented for years. Today, we are calling on Congress to demand accountability and drastically reduce ICE’s detention budget.”
McCarthy continues: “While the Inspector General’s report provides documentation of extensive abuses, its remedy is incredibly insufficient: it directs ICE field office directors to review the areas of concern. We know from earlier directives that ICE’s internal review processes fail to generate meaningful change.”
For example, in 2013, ICE conducted a system-wide review of solitary confinement after The New York Times highlighted a September 2012 report by NIJC and Physicians for Human Rights documenting widespread misuse of the practice. As a result of that review, the agency issued its 2013 Segregation Directive. In September 2017, the Inspector General found that ICE field office directors failed to comply with this directive.
Among the most disturbing findings from the Inspector General’s new report:
- Facilities put people in solitary confinement without documenting the reasons why or providing individuals information about their rights or how to appeal the punishment.
- Problems with basic hygiene and safety are endemic, including mold on bathroom walls and shower floors. Immigrants are not provided basic necessities critical to hygiene and wellness such as toilet paper, shampoo, soap, lotion, or toothpaste.
- Investigators found “spoiled, wilted, and moldy produce and other food.”
- Immigrants’ language access is so compromised that some immigrants are unable to understand basic medical forms.
- Facilities failed to respond to or resolve grievances filed by immigrants regarding staff misconduct and other conditions.
- In response to these findings, ICE told investigators: “it can be difficult for remote facilities to provide medical care to detainees” — a problem NIJC and other organizations have documented extensively and a particularly troubling response as the agency seeks to open more large detention centers in even more remote places around the country.
NIJC urges elected officials at the local, state, and national levels to respond to the red flags this report raises and demand ICE stop its reckless detention practices that jeopardize lives. Through its Goshen, Indiana office, NIJC is a member of the campaign to stop ICE from using taxpayer dollars to pay CoreCivic to open another major immigration jail in Elkhart County, Indiana. Any planned detention expansion projects must be halted immediately.