Republicans Call Abuse-Ridden Detention Centers ‘Holidays On ICE’

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the conditions of detention centers for immigrants who are facing deportation. The hearing was meant as a follow-up to new health and safety standards put in place by the Obama Administration, but Republicans were there to argue that detained immigrants — who include victims of human trafficking and asylum-seekers — had it too good at the facilities.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, titled the hearing “Holidays on ICE,” alleging that the detention centers are like vacations for those brought there by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Smith said in a press release that “the Obama administration’s new detention manual is more like a hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants.”

Other House Republicans and their experts piled on Smith’s suggestion that detainees enjoy hotel-like accomodations:

  • Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said that 110 deaths since 2003 was not alarming to him. King said he felt it reflects the general population, though those kept in ICE detention centers otherwise do not (PDF), and there is ample evidence of abuse and human rights violations.
  • King followed up, inquiring “Is it true that some of the inmates control the keys to their own cells?” The expert responded that he was not aware of that.
  • One witness said that detainees had access to move around within the facility. But images of the facilities paint a different picture.
  • As part of the new rules, detainees have a hotline to report abuse, During the hearing, the committee’s Republicans painted this as a bad thing. But previous experts have concluded that many facilities do not “meet the threshold of basic human rights standards.” Those standards include permitting detainees access to medical care and allowing women who are being held to give birth without being shackled.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, however, actually had photographic evidence of some of the conditions in these facilities, and they offered up a very different view of the detention centers. Many of her pictures depicted the results of brutal abuse, and one detainee Lofgren discussed died of cancer after being denied access to a doctor for two months.


Immigration advocates in the House have come out strong against Rep. Smith’s hearing. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), who wrote legislation pushing for detention center oversight, said that the hearing showed Republicans were seeking “cheap political points” and were unconcerned about the rights of people in the detention centers.

Watch highlights from the hearing below: