In response to Freedom of Information Act requests, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released information in early 2018 stating that, as of November 2017, almost 40,000 immigrants were being detained on any given day.Tara Tidwell Cullen, “ICE Released Its Most Comprehensive Immigration Detention Data Yet. It's Alarming,” National Immigrant Justice Center, March 13, 2018. But that figure comes from months before the administration started its zero tolerance policy, detaining and prosecuting every person who crossed the border for immigration purposes and separating children and parents.Sari Horwitz and Maria Sacchetti, “Sessions Vows to Prosecute All Illegal Border Crossers and Separate Children from Their Parents,” Washington Post, May 7, 2018.
And it comes from months before the New York Times reported in September that the Department of Health and Human Services had nearly 13,000 children in custody.Caitlin Dickerson, “Detention of Migrant Children Has Skyrocketed to Highest Levels Ever,” New York Times, September 12, 2018.
In fact, in fiscal year 2018, nearly 400,000 people were initially booked into an ICE detention facility—an increase of 22.5 percent over the previous year.U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), “ERO FY 18 by the Numbers,”
As the number of people detained has increased, the conditions of detention, always poor, have become a visible and critical problem, gaining national attention after incidents like the December deaths of seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and eight-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo in the custody of the Border Patrol, the first children to die in its custody in a decade.For the children’s deaths, see Richard Gonzales, Bill Chappell, and Brian Naylor, “7-Year-Old Migrant Girl Dies of Dehydration and Shock in U.S. Border Patrol Custody,” NPR, December 13, 2018; and Aaron Blake, “‘Our Agents Did Everything They Could’: Customs and Border Protection Head Defends Agency After Deaths of Two Children,” Washington Post, December 30, 2018. For statistics on the number of deaths, see U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), “Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen Statement on Passing of Eight Year Old Guatemalan Child” (Washington, DC: DHS, December 26, 2018). In the wake of these deaths, as well as the deaths of six adults in fiscal year 2018, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen traveled to the southern border in late December to review the care of people in custody.DHS, “Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen Statement on Guatemalan Child,” 2018; and Sergio Bustos and Eliza Collins, “DHS Chief Heads to Southern Border Following Deaths of Migrant Kids in Custody,” USA Today, December 28, 2018.
A September report from the DHS’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found conditions at ICE’s Adelanto Processing Center in California that may rise to the level of “deliberate indifference,” including failure to provide medical care, ignoring dangerous conditions, and inappropriate use of “disciplinary segregation” or solitary confinement.DHS, Office of Inspector General (OIG), Management Alert – Issues Requiring Action at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in Adelanto, California(Washington, DC: DHS OIG, 2018),. Stewart Detention Center in Georgia has been the site of multiple suicides, including that of Efraín Romero de la Rosa, a man diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who completed suicide in July after spending 21 days in solitary confinement.José Olivares, “ICE Detainee Diagnosed With Schizophrenia Spent 21 Days In Solitary Confinement, Then Took His Own Life,” The Intercept, July 27, 2018. His death came seven months after a DHS OIG report was released finding that Stewart Detention Center had repeatedly violated ICE’s Performance-Based National Detention Standards, including those governing solitary confinement.DHS OIG, Concerns about ICE Detainee Treatment and Care at Detention Facilities (Washington, DC: DHS OIG, 2017). Stewart Detention Center is managed by the private prison group CoreCivic, as is Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, the site of the 2015 death of Jose de Jesus Deniz-Sahagun, now the subject of a lawsuit naming ICE and CoreCivic as defendants and alleging that their failure to implement a meaningful suicide prevention plan was the direct cause of the 31-year old’s death.Kevin Reagan, “Lawsuit Faults Eloy Detention Center for Not Preventing Suicides,” Eloy Enterprise, February 24, 2018; CoreCivic, “Stewart Detention Center,”; and CoreCivic, “Eloy Detention Center,” CoreCivic has also been implicated in the May death of 19-month-old Mariee Juarez, who died after developing a respiratory infection while detained in Dilley, Texas; her mother has filed a lawsuit alleging that after failing to treat Mariee’s condition, ICE simply discharged them from the facility, too late to prevent the toddler’s death.Faith Karimi and Jamiel Lynch, “Mother Sues US for $60 million after Toddler Detained at Immigration Facility Later Died,” CNN, November 28, 2018; and Paul Ingram, “Sued for $40M in Toddler's Death, Eloy Cancels 'Middleman' Deal with ICE Detention Center in Texas,” Tucson Sentinel, September 26, 2018.
Another major private prison contractor, The GEO Group, is responsible for the Aurora ICE Processing Center in Colorado.The GEO Group, Inc., “Our Locations: Aurora ICE Processing Center.” In June, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and American Immigration Council sent a complaint detailing The GEO Group’s failure to provide adequate medical and mental health care to DHS OIG, ICE, and ICE's Health Services Corps, urging an investigation into the facility.Letter from American Immigration Lawyers Association and American Immigration Council to DHS OIG, Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, ICE, and ICE Health Services Corps re: Failure to provide adequate medical and mental health care to individuals detained in the Denver Contract Detention Facility, June 4, 2018. Aurora was also the site of a chicken pox outbreak in October; activists say that the facility’s poor medical care and inappropriate quarantine protocols contributed to the outbreak and prevented detained people from being able to contact their attorneys, attend important hearings, or visit with family.Sam Tabachnik, “Chickenpox Outbreak at ICE Detention Site in Aurora Prompts Outcry from Immigration Rights’ Groups,” Denver Post, October 25, 2018.