Conditions in Migrant Detention Centers

Squalid conditions, overcrowding, cold temperatures, inadequate medical care, and even tragic deaths — the emergence of disturbing reports and images from migrant detention facilities have added a troubling layer to the Trump administration’s hardline anti-immigration stance.
En Español

With an executive order the first week of his presidency, instructing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to expand the detention of migrants apprehended while crossing the border, Donald Trump set the stage not only for ending the policy of allowing migrants to remain in the U.S. interior while awaiting court proceedings, but for increasingly dangerous and unhealthy conditions in both government-run and privately operated detention centers.

Photos of overcrowded children and adults behind metal cages and reports of filth, illness and untimely deaths have generated outrage alongside the widespread anger over the administration’s zero-tolerance policy that separated children from families. Members of Congress, federal inspectors and other officials have made or tried to make numerous visits to immigrant detention centers run by CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families (ACF). In June 2018, Sen. Jeff Merkley said he was shocked by what he saw after a visit to a Texas center for unaccompanied immigrant children — a visit that multiple DHS officials, including then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, dismissed as a “Hill stunt” in emails obtained by American Oversight. 

Throughout 2019, alarming new details continued to come out. A January 2019 DHS inspector general report on ICE detention contractors found “serious deficiencies such as significant understaffing, failure to provide sufficient mental health observation, and inadequate monitoring of detainees with criminal histories.” The report also noted that the inspector general had “no way of verifying whether any of these deficiencies have been corrected.” In June of that year, a legal team interviewed 60 children at a Border Patrol facility near El Paso, describing neglect and inadequate food, water and sanitation. One visiting physician described “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day” at a CBP facility in Texas. Members of Congress who visited a Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, reported being told by detained women that they were told to drink from toilet bowls due to a lack of running water.

Such conditions are primed for the spread of serious illness. Between September 2018 and August 2019, more than 700 migrants were infected with mumps after being exposed to the disease in detention centers, and even with the arrival flu season in late 2019, Customs and Border Protection refused to administer free vaccines to migrants. At least three minors have died from the flu while in custody, including one teenage boy who, as revealed in video footage reported on by ProPublica in early December, was held in a small concrete holding cell, where he passed away after not receiving proper medical attention — video footage that doesn’t match the Border Patrol’s official account.

Moreover, the process ICE uses for providing medical care, called Medical Payment Authorization Request, or MedPAR, needs serious work. Requests for off-site care are approved by ICE staff, relying only on the reviewer’s “professional judgment.” A 2016 government report on the system said that it lacked “specific written clinical guidance on which to base approval decisions.” American Oversight is investigating such deficiencies in care for detained migrants as well as the conditions in facilities — from allegations of abuse to official communications with private contractors.

In September 2019, American Oversight published hundreds of photos we obtained — including photos of living areas and of handwritten complaint forms — that shed more light on the conditions inside detention centers for unaccompanied migrant children, which are overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services. You can read more about that here.

Litigation

In June 2019, American Oversight sued the Department of Homeland Security for records of communications related to the deaths of individuals detained by ICE and the Border Patrol, including the communications of senior officials like Kirstjen Nielsen and Kevin McAleenan, the former secretary and former acting secretary of DHS.

 

Condiciones en las Facilidades para Inmigrantes

Con una orden ejecutiva en su primera semana como Presidente, Donald Trump instruyó a la Oficina de Aduanas y Protección Fronteriza (CBP) a expandir la detención de inmigrantes que fueran arrestados mientras cruzaban la frontera, preparando el camino no solo para el fin de la política que permite a inmigrantes permanecer en los EEUU mientras esperan su fecha en la corte, si no también para condiciones cada vez más peligrosas e insaludables en centros de detenciones, ambos estatales y privados. 

Fotos de niños en cuartos abarrotados y adultos detrás de jaulas, e informes de suciedad, enfermedades, y muertos prematuros han generado furia e ira hacia la política de cero-tolerancia de la administración de Trump que separa a niños de sus familias. Miembros del Congreso, inspectores federales, y otros funcionarios han visitado o tratado de visitar los centros de detención dirigidos por el CBP, la Oficina de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE), y la administración de Servicios Humanos para Niños y Familias (ACF). En junio 2018, el Senador Jeff Merkley dijo que quedó impactado por lo que vio después de una visita a un centro de detención para niños migrantes — una visita que varios oficiales, incluyendo la ex Secretaria Kirstjen Nielsen, descartó como un “truco publicitario” en correos electrónicos obtenidos por American Oversight. 

A lo largo del 2019, nuevos detalles alarmantes continuaban saliendo. Un informe de enero 2019 del inspector de DHS sobre los contratistas de ICE encontró “deficiencias graves, como faltas significantes de personal, insuficiente observación de salud mental, y monitoreo inadecuado de los detenidos con historias criminales.” El informe también notó que el inspector “no tiene manera de poder verificar si, sí o no cualquiera de estas deficiencias han sido corregidas.” En junio de ese año, un equipo jurídico entrevistó a 60 niños en una instalación de CBP cerca de El Paso, y describió negligencia, y deficiencias de comida, agua, y sanitación. Un médico visitante describió “temperaturas frías extremas, luces encendidas las 24 horas del día” en una instalación de CBP en Texas. Miembros del Congreso que visitaron el centro de detención en Clint, Texas, informaron que mujeres detenidas les dijeron que los oficiales les dijeron que bebieran agua de las tazas de baño debido a una falta de agua corriente. 

Tales condiciones son ideales para la propagación de enfermedades graves. Entre septiembre 2018 y agosto 2019, más de 700 inmigrantes fueron infectados con mumps después de estar expuestos a la enfermedad en los centros de detención, y aún con la llegada de la temporada de gripe a finales de 2019, el CBP se rehusó a administrar vacunas gratis a los migrantes. Por lo menos tres menores han muerto de la gripe mientras estaban bajo custodia, incluyendo un niño que, como fue revelado en un video obtenido por ProPublica a principios de diciembre, fue retenido en una pequeña celda de concreto, donde murió después de que no recibió la atención médica adecuada – un vídeo que demuestra una version diferente a los del reporte de CBP de los acontecimientos. 

Además, el proceso que ICE usa para proveer cuidado médico, llamado Solicitud de Autorización de Pago Médico (o MedPar por sus siglas en inglés), necesita mejorar. Solicitudes por cuidado fuera del centro de detención son aprobadas por el personal de ICE, y dependen solo en su “juicio profesional.” Un informe gubernamental del 2016 sobre el sistema dijó que carecía de “un manual clínico con dirección específica sobre la cual se pueda basar las decisiones de aprobación.” American Oversight está investigando las deficiencias en cuidado para migrantes detenidos además de las condiciones en las instalaciones – desde acusaciones de abuso a comunicaciones oficiales con contratistas privados. 

En septiembre 2019, American Oversight publicó cientas de fotos que obtuvimos – incluyendo fotos de habitaciones y quejas formales escritas a mano – que revelan las condiciones dentro de los centros de detención que son supervisados por el Departamento de Salud y Servicios Humanos. Puedes leer más sobre esto aquí.

Litigación 

En junio 2019, American Oversight demandó al Departamento de Seguridad Nacional por expedientes de comunicación relacionados con las muertes de individuos detenidos por ICE y CBP, incluyendo las comunicaciones de altos funcionarios como Kirstjen Nielsen y Kevin McAleenan, la ex secretaria y el ex secretario interino de DHS. 

Related Documents

July 23, 2020

Complaint: American Oversight v. DHS, CBP, ICE – Deaths in DHS Custody

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Litigation
July 14, 2020

FOIA to DHS and CBP Seeking Intake Processing Forms for Individuals Who Died in Custody

Department of Homeland Security
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July 14, 2020

FOIA to DHS and CBP Seeking Incident Reports

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FOIA to DHS and CBP Seeking Sworn Affidavits

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FOIA to DHS and CBP Seeking Death Notifications

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June 19, 2020

ICE Emails Pertaining to Congressional Appropriations, Detention Standards, and Pregnant and Transgender Detainees

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Complaint: American Oversight v. DHS and ICE – Filed Detention Facility Grievances Since March 2020

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Rejection from Essex County, NJ, Regarding Emails with ICE

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May 19, 2020

Essex County, New Jersey, Order from ICE to Stop Sharing Information on COVID Test Results of Detainees

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May 19, 2020

FOIA to DHS and ICE Seeking Guidance on Detention Transfers

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May 18, 2020

FOIA to DHS for Records Regarding the Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman

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May 18, 2020

FOIA to DHS for Communications About the Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman

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May 18, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Ethics Documents for Julie Kirchner

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May 15, 2020

ICE Emails Regarding Roxsana Hernandez’s Detainee Death Review

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May 8, 2020

Rejection from CBP for Coronavirus Risk Assessments in Facilities

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May 5, 2020

Complaint: Ryo v. DHS, CBP, and ICE — Agency Data on Detainees

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May 1, 2020

FOIA to ICE for Documented Grievances Filed from March 2020

Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
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April 27, 2020

Open Public Records Request to Essex County, New Jersey, Seeking Directives from ICE

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April 27, 2020

Open Public Records Request to Essex County, New Jersey, Seeking Emails with ICE

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Open Public Records Request to Essex County, New Jersey, Seeking Communications with ICE

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April 27, 2020

Public information request to the Texas Attorney General Seeking Email Communications Regarding Vote by Mail and Coronavirus

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April 21, 2020

FOIA to DHS Regarding Cohort Quarantine Orders

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April 21, 2020

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April 15, 2020

CBP Documents Regarding Roxsana Hernandez and Felipe Gómez Alonzo

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March 24, 2020

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March 20, 2020

ICE Emails Regarding Treatment of Pregnant Detainees

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March 20, 2020

Request to DHS Seeking Sent Communications Containing Key Terms Related to the Coronavirus

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March 20, 2020

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March 12, 2020

No Records Response from DHS Regarding Civil Rights Inspection Reports

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January 30, 2020

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November 20, 2019

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October 22, 2019

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October 9, 2019

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October 9, 2019

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October 9, 2019

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September 4, 2019

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September 4, 2019

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September 4, 2019

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September 4, 2019

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September 4, 2019

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FOIA Request
September 4, 2019

FOIA to ICE Records Regarding Custody Management Waiver Policies

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FOIA Request
September 4, 2019

FOIA to DHS Seeking Waivers Reviewed by OIG

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FOIA Request
August 21, 2019

FOIA to CBP Seeking Guidance Regarding Visits of Congressional Members, Politicians, Federal Officials

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FOIA Request
August 21, 2019

FOIA to ICE Seeking Guidance Regarding Visits of Congressional Members, Politicians, Federal Officials

Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
FOIA Request
August 21, 2019

FOIA to ACF Seeking Guidance Regarding Visits of Congressional Members, Politicians, Federal Officials

Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
August 8, 2019

FOIA to ICE for Photographs of Cibola Detention Facility

Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
FOIA Request
July 23, 2019

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Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
FOIA Request
July 23, 2019

FOIA to DHS Seeking Communications with Private Prison Companies, Contractors Profiting from Detention and Incarceration, and Their Lobbyists

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
July 23, 2019

FOIA to BOP Seeking Communications with Private Prison Companies, Contractors Profiting from Detention and Incarceration, and Their Lobbyists

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
July 23, 2019

FOIA to FCC Seeking Communications with Private Prison Companies, Contractors Profiting from Detention and Incarceration, and Its Lobbyists

Federal Communications Commission
FOIA Request
July 18, 2019

FOIA to CBP for Photos, Video, and Audio of Texas Detention Facilities

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
July 18, 2019

FOIA to DHS for Photos from Inspections of CBP Facilities

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
July 9, 2019

FOIA to ICE Seeking Communications Between Deportation Officers and Outside Groups

Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
FOIA Request
June 24, 2019

HHS Photographs of Conditions in Facilities Housing Unaccompanied Minors

Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services
Agency Record
June 24, 2019

FOIA to CBP Seeking Photographs, Video, and Audio of Border Patrol Processing Centers

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
June 21, 2019

Complaint: American Oversight v. DHS, ICE, and CBP – Conditions in Detention Centers

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Litigation
June 14, 2019

HHS Photographs of Facilities Housing Unaccompanied Minors 

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS Office of Inspector General
Agency Record
May 2, 2019

HHS Records of Calendars of Officials Who Have Visited Migrant Detention Facilities

Department of Health and Human Services
Agency Reply
April 22, 2019

FOIA to DHS Seeking Communications with Outside Parties Concerning Detention Standards

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
April 22, 2019

FOIA to DHS Requesting Records Related to CRCL’s Investigation of CBP Suicides in Custody

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
April 22, 2019

FOIA to DHS Requesting Records Related to CRCL’s Recommendations on ICE Detention Standards

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
April 22, 2019

FOIA to DHS Seeking Communications with Outside Parties Concerning Detention Standards

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
April 22, 2019

FOIA to DHS Requesting Records Related to CRCL’s Recommendations on ICE Detention Standards

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
April 18, 2019

FOIA to DHS Requesting Records Related to the Care and Treatment of Detained Pregnant Women and Children

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
April 18, 2019

FOIA to ICE Seeking Records Related to Healthcare Staffing Levels

Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
FOIA Request
February 8, 2019

FOIA to DHS Seeking Communications Related to Deaths in Custody and Other Matters

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
February 8, 2019

FOIA to DHS Seeking Civil Rights Complaints Related to Deaths in Custody

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
February 8, 2019

FOIA to DHS Seeking Records Related to Nielsen’s Statements Regarding Deaths in Custody

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
February 8, 2019

FOIA to DHS Seeking Records Related to Trainings Regarding Health Care and Safety of Transgender Individuals

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
February 8, 2019

FOIA to ICE Seeking Reports on the Deaths of Individuals Held in ICE Custody

Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
FOIA Request
February 8, 2019

FOIA to ICE Seeking Records Related to the Deaths of ICE Detainees

Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
FOIA Request
October 18, 2018

FOIA to HHS Office of the Inspector General Regarding Reports of Abuse at a Virginia Detention Center for Unaccompanied Minors

Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
October 18, 2018

FOIA to CBP Seeking Records from the Central Processing Station in McAllen, Texas

Customs and Border Protection
FOIA Request
October 18, 2018

FOIA to ACF Regarding Conditions in Detention Centers for Unaccompanied Minors

Administration for Children and Families
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to ACF Seeking Emails about Sen. Merkley Visit to Detention Facility

Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
June 20, 2018

FOIA to DHS, ICE, CBP and USCIS Seeking Communications Regarding Family Separation or Sen. Merkley Visit to Detention Facility

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request