Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Immigrant Advocates Report Abuses At ICE Facilities, Call The Agency 'Complicit'

A new report on conditions in immigrant detention centers around the country finds a systematic and ongoing failure by the Obama administration to adequately inspect facilities run by public and private contractors. The report alleges a pattern of basic human rights violations leading to deaths, suicides, violence and sexual assaults in facilities that were given a clean bill of health by federal inspectors.

Those are among the conclusions drawn by the National Immigration Justice Center and Detention Watch Network based on a review of government inspection documents for 105 detention facilities. The documents were made public only after three years of litigation under the Freedom of Information Act. The report is called Lives in Peril: How Ineffective Inspections Make ICE Complicit in Immigration Detention Abuse.

One of the primary problems is a lack of transparency in the inspection process by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., whose district hosts a privately run ICE facility in Tacoma.

"Unlike federal prisons, there are no federal standards for conditions in these detention facilities. The conditions are set by ICE. So they determine what the conditions should be and then they audit whether or not they are meeting their own standards, which obviously is a conflict of interest," said Smith.

Why do ICE inspections matter? Take the case of the Eloy Federal Contract Facility in Arizona.

According to the report, Eloy "has the highest number of known deaths of any detention facility, including at least six suicides since 2003." A 2012 ICE inspection report found that the suicide watch room contains "structures of smaller objects that could be used in a suicide attempt." The report alleges frequent sexual assaults and deficient medical care. Also, the report says Eloy has not failed a government inspection since 2006 and ICE did not provide its 2010 inspection report.

Another example: medical care at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. That facility "had only one doctor and seven nurses to provide medical care for over 1,500 detained men." ICE inspections found the medical staffing to be adequate, "even with five vacant positions in 2011 and 2012." SDC outsourced medical care for more than 775 detainees in 2012.

The report alleges that the ICE inspection process is a sham prompted by a "checklist culture" designed to help facilities pass inspections without identifying or addressing violations. What the report calls "perfunctory" reviews allow local counties and private prison corporations to maintain lucrative government contracts to operate the facilities.

A spokeswoman for ICE said the agency will review the report, adding "ICE remains committed to ensuring that all individuals in our custody are held and treated in a safe, secure and humane manner, and that they have access to legal counsel, visitation, recreation, and quality medical, mental health and dental care."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.