Democratic Lawmakers Want Moratorium on New Ice Facilities and Better Oversight of Existing Ones

Human rights abuses in existing immigration detention facilities continue to go on unchecked—and Donald Trump wants to worsen this crisis by building even more of them as part of his racist, mass deportation agenda. According to USA Today, “the Department of Homeland Security last year put out a request for proposals to build new immigration prisons in Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul, Minn., Salt Lake City and south Texas.” We don’t need more facilities, we need accountability from the facilities we already have—and two immigrant rights champions in Congress have introduced legislation to do just that:


Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Senator Kamala D. Harris today introduced the Detention Oversight Not Expansion (DONE) Act, which would increase oversight of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers and halt funds for construction or expansion of new facilities. Over the last two decades, the federal immigration system has undergone a dramatic expansion that has led to a 400 percent increase in detained non-citizens with an increasing number being children, women and pregnant women. These detainees are often mistreated by ICE agents and forced to reside in deplorable conditions with their rights being habitually and systemically violated.

Additionally, the legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to submit a plan to slash the number of beds by half, in favor of alternatives to detention that have shown to be far more humane and far less expensive to the taxpayer. Instead, under the Trump administration, private prison profiteers stand to make a fortune off the imprisonment of black and brown bodies. “The private prison industry saw stock prices soar for months after the election,” CNN reported last year.

“Even though the U.S. already houses the largest immigrant detention system in the world,” Rep. Jayapal said, “the Trump administration wants more detention beds without any oversight. The countless number of horrific assaults, senseless abuses and needless deaths of immigrants in detention prove that ICE isn’t able to police itself. Our bill demands a higher accountability of ICE and a stop to detention expansion because our nation doesn’t need more violence and further militarization—what we need is comprehensive and humane reform and real accountability.”

Just days ago, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand also introduced legislation that would require out-of-control Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents “to document every instance when they stop, search, or interrogate people” for submission to Congress. Currently, agents don’t have to do any of this. While both of these bills don’t stand much of a chance to pass the Republican-led Congress, they are blueprints for Democrats going forward—and they shed sunlight on the abuses happening right now:

  • Sexual Abuse. Between FY12 and March 2018, ICE received 1,448 allegations of sexual abuse in detention facilities. Only a small percent of these claims have been investigated.

  • Medical Negligence. While in ICE custody, detainees regularly receive substandard care. Pregnant women in particular receive insufficient medical attention while in custody, resulting in dehydration and even miscarriages. In FY17 alone, at least three women reportedly miscarried while in ICE custody.

  • Access to Counsel. Detainees often struggle to secure representation due to language barriers, wait times in detention facilities, and distance between detention facilities and government-provided aid, all of which raise serious due process concerns.

  • Deaths. There have been over 170 reported deaths in ICE custody since 2003.

Exactly a year ago this month, ICE dared to call immigrant deaths in their custody “exceedingly rare”—except two died on their watch within the span of a single week. Jean Jimenez-Joseph became the seventh detained immigrant to die in fiscal year 2017, after he died in his Georgia cell by “self-inflicted strangulation.” The headline from ICE’s statement read that he “passed away.” Jimenez-Joseph had reportedly been in solitary—this is torture—for 19 days before his death. That same week, Atulkumar Babubhai Patel died after complaining of shortness of breath, becoming the eighth person that year to die while under ICE’s watch. A joint report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Detention Watch Network, and National Immigrant Justice Center:

In the case of Pablo Gracida-Conte, who was detained at Arizona’s Eloy Detention Center, ICE’s death review concluded that his death “might have been prevented” if he had received “the appropriate medical treatment in a timely manner.” The ICE death review also found that Eloy had been operating without a clinical director for years, the medical clinic was understaffed, and Eloy’s doctor reported that she “badly needs help.” Nevertheless, routine ICE inspections both before and after Mr. Gracida’s death concluded that medical staffing was adequate. Indeed, an inspection after Mr. Gracida’s death claimed that his was the first “to ever occur” at Eloy when, in fact, it was the facility’s 10th death.

"Through our network of visitation programs and our hotline,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, “we’ve documented countless stories of detained individuals who’ve been abused by ICE and private prison companies. The abuses range from sexual assault to forced labor to medical neglect and even death. These inhumane conditions have become the status quo in the U.S. immigration detention system and we refuse to tolerate it.”

“ICE’s indiscriminate approach to immigration enforcement continues to sow fear and anxiety in communities across the nation and strict oversight is long overdue,” Sen. Harris said. “It is unconscionable to subject detainees to inhumane conditions that include cases of unchecked sexual abuse, outright medical negligence, lack of access to counsel, and in some cases, even death. It’s time to end the expansion of these facilities that divert these resources to address true public safety threats.”

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