Abuses in Detention


Abuses in Detention

Immigration detention in the United States is not a criminal form of confinement but a civil one. This means that migrants held in spaces of detention are not there as punishment for having broken criminal laws. Rather, they are there so that their immigration/asylum cases can be processed, with the resolution generally being deportation.

Although the detention system is not supposed to be punitive in nature, the reality is that detention spaces tend to have the feel of and function like prisons. In fact, they are often worse than prisons. Immigration detention facilities are subject to more lax oversight than prisons and detainees have less rights than prisoners. As such, immigration detainees are routinely subject to a variety of abuses.

Routine problems in immigration detention include: sexual assault; physical abuse and excessive use of force; racists and homophobic verbal abuse; punitive disciplinary procedures; misuse of isolation; unsanitary and overcrowded facilities; failure to provide sufficient food and clean clothing; lack of outdoor recreation; retaliation if detainees complain; lack of due process; inadequate access to meaningful grievance procedures; and lack of review of detainee complaints.


‘The Warden of the WTDF hit me in the face four times, while I was at the nurse’s station. I asked two of the medical officers who were present, ‘Are you going to let this happen”? They responded, “We didn’t see anything”. I was then placed in solitary confinement, where I was forced to lie face down on the floor with my hands handcuffed behind my back while I was kicked repeatedly in the ribs by the Warden.’

Dalmar, a detainee at West Texas Detention Facility (WTDF) in Sierra Blanca, Texas

‘Once the sexual attack and rape were over, the effects were so awful. I felt like I’m not the same person. I was scared all the time. I used to be a really outgoing, friendly, confident, strong woman. But then I could hardly look people in the eye. I must express my deep frustration and sense of outrage toward the DHS that apparently knew, or should have known, that when I was placed in the sole custody of Wilfredo Vazquez I would be a likely victim.’

M.C., raped in 2007 by an ICE officer who transported her to a detention facility

For more on the abuses above and others see the following reports and statement: I Was Treated Like and AnimalDehumanizing DetentionShadow Prisons


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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.