Abuse in ICE Detention Continues and So Does the Funding for It

On any given day, Congress has set aside funding to detain 34,000 people in immigration detention. Is that too much? Or too little?  AILA’s view is that we need significant reductions in the ICE custody detention account.  Detention has been proven to be unnecessary, inefficient, and harmful.  While the issue of funding is important, the urgency to reduce detention is (or must also) remain the focus. Because what goes on behind the closed doors of ICE detention centers, administration after administration, is utterly unacceptable for anyone to experience.  We cannot continue to fund ICE detention at such high levels. 

We know some of what is happening inside detention centers because the foreign-born (and on occasion, even U.S. citizens) have used their voices to make a record of their experiences. Most recently, several local advocacy groups filed on behalf of four women an administrative complaint with agencies charged with overseeing ICE. In the complaint, they allege a male nurse employed by the country’s largest private prison company, CoreCivic, sexually assaulted them while seeking medical care at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA. This complaint was filed after CoreCivic completed their own investigation and decided the allegations were unfounded. What kind of system allows a victim’s allegations to be so easily dismissed without an independent investigation? Especially when internal DHS records indicated there were at least 17 sexual assault allegations between May 2021 and May 2022 at Stewart alone.  

As if victim’s testimonies are not enough, official government reports repeatedly expose how facilities, staff, and agencies fail the people in their custody. We have a plethora of official government reports about ICE detention. Just google “DHS Office of Inspector General ICE Detention” and you get no less than 154,000 results (including videos). And that is just one of the several government oversight agencies that are supposed to hold ICE accountable.  

The most recent of these government reports is from the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG). In late 2021, OIG conducted an unannounced visit to the Folkston ICE Processing Center, four hours from Stewart Detention Center mentioned above. Earlier this year, AILA and our partners urged DHS not to expand Folkston when it was reported that a private prison company had inked a deal to add 1800 beds. The OIG report documented the sub-standard conditions in which people were being held. The report found that these violations compromised the “health, safety, and rights of detainees.” For example, people were detained in facility plagued with standing water, mold growth, insect infestations.” The facility even lacked operable toilets in some cells.   

ICE’s responses are included in the report and are typical of the agency’s position. Often the agency will defend violations as things that they were planning on fixing. As if the ability to breathe air, free of mold, is something that should be dependent on the timely completion of a work order.   

It is easy to grow numb to story after story of hardships endured by immigrants for what is considered “civil” detention. But as an organization whose mission it is to promote justice and advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, we have the capacity to turn our frustration into action. Congress is actively negotiating how much money to fund ICE in the coming year and we expect to see a draft of that bill at the end of month.  

With over 16,000 members, let’s make sure they hear loud and clear that not a penny more to funding ICE detention.  Take a moment to use our AILA Advocacy Center tool here to send a message to Congress that the health and safety of detained immigrants is not up for negotiation.    

by Jennifer Ibañez Whitlock