DHS Immigrant Detention Facilities Face More Scrutiny Of Inhumane Conditions

By Kate Sheehy
August 14, 2015

TUCSON, Ariz. — The Department of Homeland Security has received increasing scrutiny of its immigrant detention centers, including several in Arizona operated by different DHS agencies. A new report alleges contracts for many facilities are obscure, and a federal judge ordered Friday that lawyers can inspect four sites in Arizona for inhumane conditions.

The National Immigration Justice Center said its report is a result of litigating a Freedom of Information Act request for three years. The NIJC claims to have reviewed contracts from 94 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities, including three operating in Arizona. 

Claudia Valenzuela is the Director of Detention Services at NIJC and one of the authors of the report. She said the contracts for these detention facilities are hard to decipher and many contain outdated care standards. 

“That sets the stage for these facilities to be able to basically get away with receiving payment, but not living up to their part of the bargain which is holding individuals in humane conditions,” she said.

Valenzuela said NIJC has heard from detainees in Eloy, Ariz., and other facilities that medical supplies and food are being rationed. She said the lack of transparency in the contracts raises concerns these centers are being used as profit makers and leading to an overuse of detention.

ICE said it had not reviewed the report but provided a statement:

“Since August 2009, ICE has made significant reforms to the immigration detention system, prioritizing the health and safety of the detainees in our custody while increasing federal oversight and improving the conditions of confinement within the system…Each facility used by ICE must meet a rigorous inspection by an experienced audit team, plus additional reviews/investigations when there are specific allegations that standards are not being met.”

Meanwhile, Federal Judge David Bury agreed Friday to allow lawyers to inspect four detention centers in Arizona operated by Border Patrol.

“We really want to look around and we want our experts to look around, right? The conditions that exist in those facilities we think are unfit for the type of holding they do for individuals,” said Karen Tumlin with the National Immigration Law Center.

Lawyers and experts can spend one day each at centers in Tucson, Casa Grande, Nogales and Douglas.

The Government Accountability Office recently released its findings that DHS has not been following its own guidelines for screening and caring for unaccompanied child migrants.