- The Trump administration has come under fire for conditions at immigrant detention facilities along the US-Mexico border.
- Outspoken freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez started a firestorm by comparing the facilities to concentration camps. Several leading Democratic presidential candidates visited one of the facilities recently to protest the administration’s policies.
- Adults are usually detained temporarily at a facility operated by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), where they may be deported. If they choose to seek asylum, they await trial at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center.
- The map above shows the dispersed geography of ICE facilities throughout the US.
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Conditions at the US government’s immigrant detention facilities have come under fire in recent days, after new reports of overcrowding and insufficient supplies.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General reviewed a set of five facilities in June, and released harrowing pictures suggesting severe overcrowding. Court documents from migrants seeking asylum filed in California paint a picture of inadequate food and water, freezing temperatures, and a lack of proper bedding.
Outspoken freshman representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ignited a firestorm on Twitter by referring to the facilities as “concentration camps.” Ocasio-Cortez then called the conditions at an El Paso US Border Patrol facility she toured “horrifying,” saying migrants were subjected to psychological abuse and told to drink out of toilets.
In late June, several leading Democratic presidential candidates (including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris, and South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg) visited a detention center for child migrants in Texas to protest conditions at the facilities.
How the US detention policy has changed over time
Under a policy that started in early 2018, the administration of President Donald Trump has separated more than 2,300 children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to institute a “zero-tolerance” policy, meaning the agency is prosecuting every undocumented migrant crossing the border.
When border officials capture an undocumented family trying to enter the US, the agents arrest the migrants and take them to a CBP holding facility for processing. If they want to seek asylum, adults are then sent to ICE detention centers, while kids are transferred to shelters. Here, the children wait to see if they will be deported or reunited with relatives in the US – if the government or a nonprofit can find them.
Due to mounting political pressure, Trump signed an executive order in June 2018 that he claimed would end the family separation (while keeping the “zero-tolerance” regulations). The fate of children already in custody is unclear, however, and the order faces legal challenges.
As of November 2017, according to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the National Immigrant Justice Center, ICE operated 1,478 adult detention centers – a number that doesn’t include the CBP facilities, which are all within 100 miles of the southern border.
ICE has published a limited map of these facilities, which also doesn’t include the hundreds of county jails, Bureau of Prisons facilities, Office of Refugee Resettlement centers, hotels, and hospitals the agency contracts with. (To see the complete list with addresses, head over to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center’s site.)
We created the above map that shows the number of ICE detention facilities in every US state (plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico) as of November 2017.
Many of the facilities are hiding in plain sight
As the above map shows, every state has at least two facilities where ICE detains immigrants. Border states like Texas and California have the largest numbers of detention centers. Small states like Delaware, Hawaii, and Rhode Island have the fewest. ICE operates 15 facilities in Alaska, the largest state by land area.
Many of these facilities are hiding in plain sight near major urban centers. In Brooklyn, New York, there’s one next door to an IKEA. The facility with the largest number of detained immigrants (1,917 people as of late 2017) was the Stewart Detention Center, a private prison in Lumpkin, Georgia.
In November 2017, ICE reported that its total average daily population for fiscal year 2018 was 39,322 people, marking the second year in a row that figure has reached a record high.
As the National Immigrant Justice Center notes, on an average day in November 2017, ICE held most people – 71% of the total – in prisons operated by private companies. Since 2012, every authorized ICE facility has passed every government inspection, even those where multiple people have died, with some deaths later reported a result of medical neglect.
ICE categorized the majority of incarcerated immigrants – 51% on average – as “non-criminal” and as posing “no threat.” Twenty-three percent were designated as the lowest “Level 1” threat, which typically includes people with nonviolent criminal convictions. Just 15% were classified at the highest threat level.