ICE is desperate for some good publicity. The agency that has been in the spotlight for caging children and separating families recently hosted a media tour of the detention facility in Tacoma, which was covered in The Seattle Times [“To dispel ‘bad information,’ ICE opens detention facility in Tacoma to first-of-its kind media tour“].
Nathalie Asher, who heads enforcement and removal operations throughout the Northwest for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said the tour was meant to dispel “bad information.” What she provided was a whitewashed, public relations-driven view of the detention center that is offensive and inaccurate.
The “well-run operation” that Asher described is, in fact, a prison run by a private for-profit contractor — the GEO Group — which deprives detainees of many of their most basic rights. The administration seeks to detain as many individuals as possible, whether or not their detention can be justified. Individuals fleeing persecution and those who have lived quietly and productively in the U.S. for decades are imprisoned while facing long delays to seeking relief in court.
Despite repeated complaints by attorneys, the GEO Group fails to meet its contractual obligation of providing sufficient rooms for attorney-client meetings. Attorneys often wait upward of two hours to visit with clients, interfering with the detainees’ right to counsel and decreasing the number of attorneys willing to represent these individuals.
Detainees are required to have access to outdoor recreation. However, this “outdoor” recreation is often held indoors. One detainee reported that, when given actual time outdoors, it is the only time he can feel free. But because of the layout, detainees can barely see the sky. Detainees complain about food that is undercooked, burned or in one case, filled with maggots. These concerns are more serious than simply not being happy with “institutional food,” as Asher describes.
Asher characterizes the medical services as “transformational” for immigrants from “third-world countries” who have never seen a doctor. However, detainees routinely report a lack of access to medical treatment, incorrect diagnosis of serious physical- and mental-health conditions, poorly-managed conditions and a failure to provide correct medication. Even when detainees provide information regarding medications that they took prior to detention, such medications are often not provided. Furthermore, mentally-ill detainees are regularly misdiagnosed and overmedicated to the point of sedation, impacting both their functioning and their ability to properly prepare their cases.
Detainees fleeing persecution and torture often are re-traumatized when detained for months, and sometimes years, on end. Most have committed no crimes and have in fact followed U.S. laws by seeking asylum at the border. Those who have lived in this country for years, including lawful permanent residents, face lengthy separation from their families, for whom they are often the sole sources of financial support. And, all immigrants who remain detained have a lower chance of successfully fighting their cases, as they face obstacles to obtaining evidence and accessing counsel. The administrative hurdles that detainees face, even when trying to request copies of their own files, are onerous. Detainees who have been tortured in their home countries often abandon meritorious appeals because the prospect of additional months of detention is too much to bear.
This is a jail for people who are not held on criminal charges, people who have seen unimaginable horrors and yet who are treated like animals and criminals when they finally arrive in the country where they believe they will be safe.
To be clear, we do not condone in any way the recent violent attacks against the detention center and its personnel that Asher references. There is no place for that in our society. But we do condemn the harsh use of immigration detention, both here in Washington state and at our borders, that separates families, deters asylum-seekers from lawfully seeking protection, interferes with their right to prepare and present their cases with legal assistance, and violates the most basic human rights of immigrants.