Inspection reports written by experts hired by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties found “barbaric” and “negligent” conditions at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers.
“These reports are chilling. They are damning,” Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project told NPR. “They really show how the government’s own inspectors can see the abuses and the level of abuses that are happening in ICE detention.”
The more than 1,600 pages of records were obtained by NPR through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit after the federal government — both the Trump and Biden administrations — fought NPR’s legal efforts to obtain the inspection reports. After two years of litigation, a federal judge found that that government had violated FOIA by not providing the records and ordered the government to release the documents.
The reports detail egregious civil rights abuses. In Michigan, a man in ICE custody was sent into a jail’s general population unit with an open wound from surgery with no bandages and no follow-up appointment, even though he still had surgical drains in place. “The detainee never received even the most basic care for his wound,” a federal inspector reported.
In Georgia, an ICE detainee desperately asked a nurse for an inhaler for his asthma. He was not examined by the medical staff, but the nurse falsely noted in his medical record that “he was seen in sick call.” An inspector wrote that “The documentation by the nurse bordered on falsification and the failure to see a patient urgently requesting medical attention regarding treatment with an inhaler was negligent.”
A mentally ill male ICE detainee in Pennsylvania was strapped into a restraint chair by a group of correctional officers and had his clothes cut off with a pair of scissors by a lone female officer. “There is no justifiable correctional reason that required the detainee who had a mental health condition to have his clothes cut off by a female officer while he was compliant in a restraint chair. This is a barbaric practice and clearly violates … basic principles of humanity,” an inspector said.
“Migrants have human dignity, and ICE detention centers must prioritize humane treatment,” Jennie Murray, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum said in a statement. “The Biden administration must ensure that the conditions described in these reports do not persist today.”
These civil rights abuses have come to light as migrant detentions reached their highest level since 2020. More than 31,000 non-citizens were being detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection or ICE in mid-July, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse of Syracuse University reports.
Nearly one-third of all detainees are held in ICE facilities in Texas, which have been condemned by federal investigators for unsafe conditions. “These living conditions not only violated detention standards and detainee rights, but also posed health and safety risks to detainees,” a report regarding the conditions at Port Isabel Service Processing Center detailed.
Those detained at Winn Correctional Center in rural Winn Parish, Louisiana also have complained for years about mistreatment, inadequate medical care, and filthy accommodations. “People stay sick, and they don’t care,”A 37-year-old Colombian asylum-seeker told NBC News.
The asylum seeker also described drinking potentially unsafe “yellow” water at the facility. A 2022 water quality report at the facility scored its’ water system a “D” on its “A” to “F” scoring system.
“The facility is not clean,” Dwayne Smith, a Jamaican migrant who was detained at Winn told NBC News. “I was treated like a criminal fugitive. I’ve lived 35 years of my life and never been treated like that before,” Smith said.
“The federal government must ensure that it is treating people with dignity and respect,” Murray said. “The administration should move to increase the use of alternatives to detention, which have proved effective and save money, and decrease the number of people in detention facilities to begin with. It also should follow through on reducing its dependence on for-profit private prisons.”
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