Rediscovering Arizona - Abuse in Immigration Detention Centers

We have dedicated much of our blog this month to the State of Arizona and its connection to private prisons, ICE-contracted immigrant detention and policy makers tied to bad legislation.  The ACLU of Arizona, in its latest report, adds to the narrative some of the voices within this epic and historic struggle for justice.

From Victoria Lopez, ACLU of Arizona:

Earlier this summer, the ACLU of Arizona released a report documenting the cases of men and women who have suffered from abuses related to inhumane conditions and inadequate legal protections in Arizona ICE detention centers. The report, “In Their Own Words: Enduring Abuse in Arizona Immigration Detention Centers,” is based on 115 interviews with people detained in Eloy and Florence, Arizona, correspondence with detainees and their family members, and review of hundreds of government records, including more than 500 grievances.

Flawed immigration policies and laws have led to a 58 percent increase in immigration detention in Arizona over the past six years. Industry giant Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has been front and center in this expansion. CCA is the largest contractor of ICE detention beds, operating 14 ICE-contracted facilities nationwide with a total of 14,556 beds, including 1,700 beds in Eloy and Florence. CCA and other private prison companies have a clear incentive to urge the government to build more jails and as recently reported, regularly lobby federal and state governments for laws that create more opportunity to detain, even if it is not the most effective use of taxpayer dollars.

The U.S. government’s heavy reliance on immigration detention has led to inhumane conditions in Arizona’s five immigration detention centers, unnecessary and prolonged detention, and abusive treatment of immigrants. In addition, because there are no legally-enforceable standards and the majority of immigration detention centers in Arizona are operated by either private corporations or a local county jail, there is very little oversight over the delivery of medical care, grievance procedures, and overall treatment of detainees.

Over and over we’ve seen clear examples of how the lack of oversight and transparency in the operation of private detention facilities has resulted in disastrous consequences. The ACLU has been involved in a number of cases across the country involving privately-run immigration detention. For example:

At the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas, CCA detained immigrant children aged 3 to 10 years old in prison cells. These children were dressed in prison “scrubs” and received just an hour a day of recreation and a few hours of educational services.  Now used as a facility to detain adult women, there have been multiple reports of sexual assaults committed by CCA guards against female detainees.

In San Diego, adult immigrants detained by CCA were subjected to triple-celling, leading to the spread of infectious diseases and severe psychological suffering, while medical and mental health services remained inadequate, resulting in significant delays.

Through litigation, the ACLU discovered that nine immigrants died while in custody at the CCA-Eloy Detention Center (EDC) since 2003, representing the highest number of deaths at any detention facility in the country. Additionally, in the past year we’ve documented five cases involving sexual abuse and discrimination against gay and transgender immigrants at EDC.

Despite statements by the Department of Homeland Security two years ago indicating initiatives to reform the immigration detention system, major failures persist in the Arizona facilities. In addition to recommending that ICE terminate its contract with the Pinal County Jail, where we documented horrible examples of abuse, we’ve called on the government to discontinue its contracts with private prison corporations.

The truth is no amount of cosmetic fixes will erase the poor track records of corporations like CCA or take care of the fact that immigration detention presents major fiscal and human costs for immigrants and citizens alike.

The ACLU-AZ’s full report, “In Their Own Words: Enduring Abuse in Arizona Immigration Detention Centers,” is available online at www.acluaz.org/detention-report-2011.