The recent crackdown on illegal immigration has brought fresh attention to the sorry state of U.S. detention centers.
Hundreds of undocumented immigrants were arrested and detained last week in an initial step to enforce President Trump’s promise to crack down on the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. The arrests took place in homes and workplaces in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, North Carolina and South Carolina. Though officials insist the raids were intended to only target criminals, Trump has reportedly “broadened the scope of who the Department of Homeland Security can target to include those with minor offenses or no convictions at all”.
There are over 100 detention centers in the U.S. maintained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Since detainees are not U.S. citizens or legal immigrants, they are not protected by the constitutional rights given to prisoners, exacerbating the impunity of the situation. Photos have recently been released that depict the horrific conditions of these holding centers.
The photos show dozens of people crammed into small cells, sleeping on the ground side by side covered only by mylar (space) blankets. The centers are infamously freezing cold, known as “hierleras” to detainees, which means “iceboxes” in Spanish. One picture from a center in rural Pennsylvania shows the stained shirt worn by Catherine Checas, aged three, who was denied medical attention for more than four days while vomiting blood. “There were so many children in there who were struggling, falling sick with fevers and yet the staff weren’t doing anything to help them,” mother, Gladys Checas told the Guardian, after being held for 11 months.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman, Sarah Maxwell, responded with the statement that “Family residential centers are an important part of the US government’s comprehensive response to the spike in illegal migration that occurred last summer. They are an effective and humane alternative for maintaining family unity”. Detainees have also been known to be subject to sexual assault at the hands of government officers.
There are 17 detention centers in Arizona, namely within the “Tuscon Sector” which houses thousands of Central and South Americans apprehended entering the country illegally. According to a Class Action Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief filed by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) in 2015 against members of the Dpt. of Homeland Security, Customs & Border Protection and the Arizona Joint Field Command, conditions of these detention centers are perilous. The claim asserts the “regular use of these filthy, cold, and often overcrowded holding cells for longer-term detention is dangerous, inhumane, and punitive.”
As proposed by the Department of Homeland Security’s 2008 guidelines, most of the cells are only meant for up to a 12-hour processing period, but detainees are routinely held much longer “in unsanitary holding cells that are neither designed nor equipped for extended detention, and certainly not for sleeping”. According to data collected by the ACLU, “During a six-month period in 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detained over 58,000 people for 24 hours or longer in holding cells within the Tucson Sector… More than 24,000 of those detainees were held for 48 hours or longer”.
As said by Advocate Walter Barrientos of Make the Road New York “We cannot understate the level of panic and terror that is running through many immigrant communities”.
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