New Report Exposes How ICE’s Inspections Perpetuate and Obscure Abuse at Immigration Detention Centers Around the US

October 30, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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  Newly Released Government Documents Reveal Critical Flaws in ICE Inspections Process, Show that the Obama Administration’s Reforms Fail to Fix Widespread Abuses

WASHINGTON DC – A new report, “Lives in Peril: How Ineffective Inspections Make ICE Complicit in Immigration Detention Abuse ” released today by the National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC) and Detention Watch Network (DWN), exposes how the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) inspections process for immigration detention centers obscures and perpetuates widespread abuses of detained immigrants.


The report draws on information from ICE inspections documents for 105 immigration detention facilities and features focused analyses of inspections for detention centers in Arizona, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Georgia and Illinois. NIJC obtained the inspections through a federal court order resulting from three years of litigation under the Freedom of Information Act. NIJC and DWN’s review of the documents reveals fundamental inconsistencies within and between inspection reports for individual detention centers which suggests that the immigration detention inspection process is a sham – designed to perpetuate a broken and abusive system.


“The government fought for years to keep these inspection reports hidden from the public eye, and now we know why: despite its early promises to make the detention system more accountable and humane, the Obama administration has perpetuated a system that ensures detention contractors pass their inspections and continue to receive billions of dollars from taxpayers to detain immigrants, even in jails where there are highly publicized human rights abuses,” said Claudia Valenzuela, director of detention for the National Immigrant Justice Center.

“ICE’s  inspection processes is fundamentally broken and fails to adequately assess troubling conditions and human rights violations detained immigrants face. Plain and simple – the Obama Administration’s attempts at reforming the immigration detention system have failed: Detention centers are not safe, abuses are widespread and detention facilities consistently fail to meet basic minimum standards,” explained Mary Small, policy director for the Detention Watch Network.

Toplines from the report include:

  • ICE has kept the detention inspections process centralized under its own authority and has hidden the system from the eyes of U.S. taxpayers.
  • ICE’s inspection regime fails to provide an accurate assessment of the conditions immigrants experience in detention, holds most facilities to weak and outdated human rights standards, and often fails to acknowledge publicly reported abuses.
  • Numerous inconsistencies within and between inspection reports raise serious questions about the validity of ICE inspections and imply that the inspection process is designed to facilitate passing ratings so that local governments and private prison companies can maintain their contracts. This report makes it obvious that ICE cannot police itself.
  • A robust and legitimate inspection process would find that detention facilities around the country fail to meet basic minimum standards, and require ICE to discontinue contracts with facilities that fail to uphold basic human rights protections.

NIJC was represented in the Freedom of Information Act litigation by pro bono lawyers from Dentons US LLP.

For interviews with the Detention Watch Network or National Immigration Justice Center, please contact Brett Abrams at 516-841-1105 or by email at


Rep. Joaquin Castro Introduces Legislation to Change the Term Alien in Federal Law

October 23, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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Oct. 21, 2015 

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) introduced legislation to remove offensive and inflammatory language characterizing immigrants as “aliens” from federal law. The Correcting Hurtful and Alienating Names in Government Expression (CHANGE) Act changes this terminology in U.S. code and federal agencies’ materials and documentation.

 “America is a nation of immigrants, yet our federal government continues to use terms that dehumanize and ostracize those in our society who happen to have been born elsewhere,” said Rep. Castro. “Regardless of status, immigrants to our nation are first and foremost human beings. Removing the term ‘alien’ from our federal laws shows respect to our shared heritage and to the hundreds of millions of descendants of immigrants who call America home.”

 Specifically, the CHANGE Act:

  • Changes the term “alien” in federal law to the term “foreign national
  • Strikes the term “illegal alien” from federal law and replaces it with the term “undocumented foreign national
  • Ensures all Executive Branch agencies do not use the term “alien” and “illegal alien” in signage and literature

Current law uses the term “alien” to describe a person who is not a citizen or national of the United States. This language has been included in U.S. code since the Naturalization Act of 1790. Since that time though, the term has taken on a highly negative connotation.

 Precedent exists for this type of terminology reform. For example, the law has been changed to strike terms such as “lunatic” (21st Century Language Act) and “mentally retarded” (Rosa’s Law) from statute.

 “Words matter, particularly in the context of an issue as contentious as immigration,” added Rep. Castro. “Discontinuing our use of the term ‘alien’ will help lessen the prejudice and vitriol that for too long have poisoned our nation’s discussions around immigration reform. The recognition of immigrants’ personhood in our laws should bring civility to and prompt progress in our efforts to fix America’s broken immigration system.”

 The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the National Immigration Forum have offered their support for the CHANGE Act.


Federal judge orders Obama administration to release detained mothers and children

August 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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AUGUST 22, 2015


A federal judge ruled late Friday night that the Obama administration has just over two months to begin releasing hundreds of migrant mothers and children who have been locked up in government family detention centers as they await their asylum hearings.

In a 15-page ruling that quoted Mahatma Gandhi, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Central California delivered a scolding rebuke of the government’s expanded use of family detention centers. But she also granted the government one of its key requests for additional time – as much as 20 days – to continue to hold mothers and children under certain circumstances like last year’s surge of nearly 70,000 Central American families into the United States.

“This is a historic decision,” said Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration and asylum law at Cornell Law School. “If it stands, it will force major changes to the government’s family detention program.”

“This is a historic decision. If it stands, it will force major changes to the government’s family detention program. Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration and asylum law at Cornell Law School

Gee rejected a last minute plea by the administration to reconsider her July ruling that the government acted in violation of a 1997 settlement regarding child migrants. She called the government’s arguments improper and speculative.

“Defendants submitted a 51-page brief that served primarily as a vehicle for a thinly-veiled motion for reconsideration, rehashing many of the same arguments which the Court previously rejected” Gee wrote about the government in her ruling.

The lead attorney for the mothers, Peter Schey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, said that the court’s ruling “will protect refugee children and their mothers from lengthy and entirely senseless detention.”

“Secretary Jeh Johnson should be thoroughly ashamed of his ‘anti-mother’ detention policy that over the past year has caused thousands of innocent children to needlessly suffer severe psychological and often physical harm,” Shey said of the Homeland Security Secretary.

The Obama administration currently holds more than 1,800 parents and children awaiting court hearings in three family detention centers in Dilley and Karnes City, Texas, and Berks County, Pa.

Homeland Security officials disagreed with the court’s conclusion, but said the judge’s language permits the administration’s current use of its family detention centers. The government had feared the judge would issue a blanket order prohibiting the detention of all families under any circumstances beyond five days.

Starting on Oct. 23, the judge said the government must release detained mothers and children as quickly as possible. But what she added in Friday’s ruling, which was not clear in her previous decisions, was that the government could exceed the five-day requirement under some extenuating circumstances like last year’s surge of migrants. It also states that recent policy changes made by Homeland Security to end long-term detention may be enough to satisfy the parameters of the ruling if migrants are truly being processed as expeditiously as possible. The average stay at one of the facilities is currently 20 days, according to officials.

“As family residential centers continue to operate consistent with this order, DHS will continue to screen family members’ claims as expeditiously as possible, while ensuring that their due process rights are protected,” said DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron.

Benjamin Mizer, principal deputy assistant attorney general, had written in an earlier administration brief that five days was not enough time to conduct health screenings or to determine whether family members are eligible to remain in the United States.

Despite finding that the so-called family detention centers run by ICE to be both unsanitary and unfit for children, Judge Gee would still permit the government to jail children in private prisons for nearly three weeks. Jonathan Ryan, executive director of the Texas-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services

The Obama administration has already been forced to curb the program and release hundreds of migrant mothers and children – some of whom had been locked up fof more than a year – as the program came under intense congressional and media scrutiny.

The ruling is likely to divide immigration advocates between those who see it as a major victory and others who feel the added flexibility given the government will lead to more problems for detained mothers and their children.

Jonathan Ryan, executive director of the Texas-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, said doctors have found that even brief stays in secure detention facilities can have immediate and long-lasting consequences on children’s health.

“Despite finding that the so-called family detention centers run by ICE to be both unsanitary and unfit for children, Judge Gee would still permit the government to jail children in private prisons for nearly three weeks,” Ryan said.

Email:; Twitter: @francoordonez.

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