A look inside the immigration detention system Trump wants to expand

Unsanitary conditions and substandard care.

In this 2012 file photo, suspected illegal immigrants are transferred out of the holding area after being processed at the Tucson Sector of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Tucson, Ariz. AP PHOTO/ROSS D. FRANKLIN, FILE
In this 2012 file photo, suspected illegal immigrants are transferred out of the holding area after being processed at the Tucson Sector of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Tucson, Ariz. AP PHOTO/ROSS D. FRANKLIN, FILE

President-elect Donald Trump’s upset election victory last week upended hopes from immigrant advocates that the practice of keeping immigrant detainees in for-profit detention facilities will become a thing of the past.

Back in August, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security agency ordered an evaluation to phase out the use of privately run for-profit detention centers, which have higher incidences of safety and security violations than government-run detention centers. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said that he wanted this review done by November 30.

But the incoming president may instead expand the use of detention centers to house the millions of undocumented immigrants that he has promised to deport. In a recent media interview, Trump said he will deport upwards of three million “criminal” immigrants, many of whom would likely be detained in these facilities before they show up for their deportation proceedings. The organizations that would benefit from Trump’s anti-immigrant stance include private prison operators Corrections Corp. of America’s and the Geo Group, which saw their stock prices jump after he won the election.

Now, an immigrant advocacy group is pushing back on Trump’s impending proposal, pointing to field observations to show that immigrants could suffer a host of substandard health care and abuse issues inside detention centers.


Earlier this year, immigrant advocacy groups filed a civil rights complaint on behalf of 61 people being held at a detention center in New Jersey, accusing facility operators of providing substandard health care.

In response, the city put together a committee to probe the allegations. Although the committee’s report, released last month, absolved the facility of any wrongdoing, it also highlighted some of the egregious conditions facing people who are detained in the Hudson County Correctional Facility.

Nearly half of the people held at Hudson had to use unsanitary, moldy bathrooms. Health officials at the facility did not fully comply with national detention standards for detainees held in jails. And detainees didn’t receive medication and medical response within a reasonable period of time.

Hudson is a county jail that holds inmates serving prison sentences — and also contracts directly with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to hold immigrants who are being detained for immigration violations. But based on the findings in the report, advocates are now asking state officials to investigate and terminate Hudson’s contract with the privately-operated medical care provider CFG Health Systems, LLC (CFG).

In a letter submitted to state officials on Tuesday, two advocacy groups — Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) and its local affiliate, First Friends of NJ NY — accuse Hudson of making little to no efforts to fix the issues raised in the civil rights complaint in May.


The letter argues Hudson needs to do much more to address unsanitary and shoddy living areas, provide language translators, and give better health treatment to immigrant detainees — and claims that the committee’s recent report actually omitted crucial information involving some detainees.

In one case, even though a detainee didn’t get tumor-suppressive therapy for nearly two weeks, the report stated that “it appears that all medical care was appropriately and timely provided.” In another case involving a detainee who bled internally for three days before he was hospitalized, and who reportedly did not receive information about his medication and treatment plan, the report stated that “all pertinent information was provided to the patient.” And one detainee who was not diagnosed with cancer for two months, and who did not receive a proper examination from CFG even when he complained of excruciating pain, was not even mentioned in the report.

Even though 121 people have lodged medical grievances directly to the facility over the past two years, jail officials have only taken “corrective action in 2.48 percent of these complaints,” according to CIVIC.

Advocates also accused the committee of extracting report findings based on a flawed, informal, and non-representative survey of just 88 immigrants out of 551 detainees at Hudson. Advocates said the vast majority of immigrants weren’t offered a chance to participate in the survey. They suggested the low participation rate was due in part to language barriers, since the survey was only translated into Spanish but not into the 13 other languages spoken by detainees at the facility, and fear of retaliation among detainees who in the past have been transferred to facilities in other cities.

Immigrant detainees continued to face the same issues even after the release of the report. Detainees told advocates that “the mold had been covered by fresh paint.” Advocates also weren’t able to find evidence that people in immigration detention received mental health treatment.

There has been some positive developments since the report’s release, however. The committee called for Hudson to establish its first independent medical monitoring board, which would give advocates a way to give feedback as well.


“We are very hopeful that this will be a first step to ensuring that we could continue to have not only a consistent community presence within the detention center through our affiliated visitation systems, but that we would have access to additional records to the detention system to make sure medical care is being provided properly,” Christina Fialho, CIVIC’s co-founder and executive director, told ThinkProgress.

As advocates continue to ensure detainees at Hudson receive proper treatment, there could be more health care incidents in the future since immigrant detention centers will continue to play a big role through the end of the Obama administration. ICE is set to build, reopen, or contract about ten detention facilities to house 5,000 more immigrants, with at least two troubled facilities cited for abuse, negligence, and death of an inmate, up for consideration.

Detention centers were formed to ensure that immigrants showed up for their court appearances and deportation proceedings. Between 1994 and 2013, the number of detainees have swelled fivefold. On any given night, about 41,000 immigrants are housed in immigration detention centers, up 10,000 beds from last year.