Detention center in Texas from "Immigrant Detention: The New Internment Camps" by Emerson Collective
The alarming conditions in U.S. immigration detention centers–captured in photos that showcase severe overcrowding and migrants wrapped up in only aluminum blankets to stay warm–have come to dominate national headlines. Nearly 200 immigration detention facilities run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other federal agencies are scattered throughout the United States. These detention centers hold over 52,000 people, most of whom are fleeing violence and poverty from Central American countries. Many of these asylum-seeking migrants and refugees end up in detention centers that visitors, politicians, and detainees alike say parallel jails and torture facilities.
What are the conditions like at immigration detention centers?
Detained children and adults are held with meager access to basic necessities including food, water, sanitation, bedding, and medicine. As captured infamously during Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to a Texas detention center when a group of detained men yelled, “No showers!”, detainees are often denied showers for weeks. Even soap is often unavailable.
Doctors describe signs of malnutrition among children with meager rations, under-cooked meals, and food inconsistent with detainees’ religious practices. Detainee Paul Singh–who fled India to seek political asylum–lost 15 pounds in less than two months in his time at the facility. He survived on green beans, rice, and two pieces of bread each day.
Meals aren’t much better for children. Surviving on non-nutritional food–such as instant ramen and other microwavable meals–infants and children on this diet at facilities lose weight at rapid rates.
The harsh treatment of migrants extends to sexual assault allegations. Starting from October 2014, the federal government received over 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse of migrant minors held in detention centers.
Why are migrants facing detention?
The recent “zero tolerance” policy set in May 2019 aims to prosecute all migrants who enter the U.S. undocumented. This leads to children being separated from their guardians, who face criminal prosecution, and being placed in detention facilities.
Additionally, the “metering” policy, in which border agents turn away migrants presenting themselves for asylum at ports of entry to the U.S. for weeks or months at a time, causes many to struggle to develop their case as they are left without access to U.S. immigration services. The policy furthermore often puts them at risk of extortion by Mexican immigration officials and other criminal groups.
Salvadoran migrant Óscar Ramirez and his two-year-old daughter Valeria are two cases of such policies. The two along with Ramirez’s wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, sought asylum, but were placed in a Mexican migrant camp without enough food and temperatures soaring over 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The family decided to cross the Rio Grande instead where Ramirez and Valeria died before making it into Texas.
What has been the response to these detention centers?
Politicians and political parties remain divided on how to deal with the migrant crisis at the U.S. border and the extent to which conditions in detention centers merit a dire humanitarian crisis. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has compared detention centers to concentration camps, calling for the federal government to abolish them altogether, while Vice President Pence has refuted the concentration camp comparison and instead claims that detention centers “[provide] care that every American would be proud of.”
On social media, hashtags such as #CloseTheCamps, #NeverAgainIsNow and #AbolishICE have gained traction in light of President Donald Trump’s dismissal of the facilities’ conditions, treatment and his calls for increased ICE raids. Activists have taken to the streets to protest in numerous major cities. In some cases, authorities have arrested protestors outside of ICE detention centers for blocking streets.
What can I do to help?
Our support and advocacy for immigrants more vital now than ever. Here are numerous ways you can help:
Demand that our political leaders pledge to end detention centers. You can call your congressperson and demand the end practices that target detained migrants and vote for politicians who support pro-immigrant legislation.
Donate to organizations located on or near the border that provide necessary resources and services to asylum-seekers and those in detention centers.
Offer your services. Many pro-immigration organizations like CIANA need volunteers who are multilingual, practice law, or have other relevant skills.
Continue to share Know Your Rights information and spread the word about the abhorrent conditions in detention centers. You can download and share CIANA’s Know Your Rights infographics in English, Spanish, and Arabic.