Immigration Justice Campaign is an initiative of American Immigration Council, American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Immigration Justice Campaign Text Logo
Immigration Justice Campaign Text Logo

Impacted Individuals Build the Case to End Immigration Detention

Immigration detention is traumatic, dangerous, and dehumanizing, and should be replaced with humane, community-based programs for those who need them.

Until that happens, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should review the cases of those in its custody—starting from a presumption of release. This process should ensure the release of anyone at heightened risk of serious illness from COVID-19 or who does not meet the agency’s interim enforcement priorities. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is also conducting a 100-day review all its enforcement policies. This review should recommend further steps towards a meaningful system of release and a phase-out of detention. Take action today to help us make this a reality!

Below, read the words and stories of individuals who have faced or are currently facing the harsh realities of immigration detention.

Roger was detained in the Joe Corley Detention Facility as COVID-19 spread through the facility. Roger worked tirelessly to shine a light on the grim conditions within Joe Corley and despite medical vulnerabilities ICE denied him freedom twice before his eventual release. In a piece Roger wrote from detention he states: “Today, within this crowded detention facility, all of us are victims of this pandemic…We only ask to fight for our lives with our families at our sides, as we are in no way a risk to this society. It would be better that the government use these centers, food, resources and staff to help the people who need it most.

“Conditions in this center are ripe for the propagation of the novel coronavirus. Detainees with respiratory symptoms are forced to go without medical assistance, and there are over 30 people in most dorms, making social distancing virtually impossible. We do not have access to personal protective equipment like masks or gloves. When the doctor walks by people bang on the door to try to get medical attention. I have seen people carried out in critical condition. Meanwhile, individuals from the border and other detention centers are being transferred to the facility. I was transferred here from El Paso, though I had a sore throat at the time.”

Thomas* narrowly escaped deportation on a “death flight” back to Cameroon despite having a reasonable fear of persecution in Cameroon. Thomas was forced to wait in Mexico for three months before being allowed into the United States to seek asylum. When he was finally allowed into the U.S. he was detained and denied release from detention three times. With the assistance and persistence of his pro bono attorneys, after nearly 18 months, Thomas was finally released from the Aurora Contract Detention Facility in light of ICE’s new enforcement priorities. Reflecting on his release from detention he stated, “I will always remember that day, it felt like Christmas day. I was overwhelmed with joy, it felt like the darkness had finally been lifted. I had dreamed of my freedom for so long and now I was finally given a fresh start.”

While in custody at the West Texas Detention Facility (WTDF), Cassandra*, an asylum seeker from Mexico, was raped by another woman. Cassandra reported the incident, but no action was taken. She was also sexually harassed by an inmate in her dorm while at WTDF, and while detained at the El Paso Processing Center, Cassandra was harassed by another woman. Because of this abuse, Cassandra faces severe mental health issues that were only exacerbated by prolonged detention. During her time at the El Paso Processing Center, Cassandra was also forced in and out of isolation and on one occasion was injured by a guard while he was forcing her into a confined area. She was detained for over a year and a half, during which time her three Fraihat requests and her bond request were denied, and the reasoning for denial was changed each time. After months of advocacy, Cassandra won release with the help of her attorneys.

Jonathan* has lived in the United States for nearly twenty years and is married to and has children with a legal permanent resident. Jonathan suffers from Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which puts him at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing a serious illness. He also suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, and anxiety. Under ICE’s February 2021 guidance, Jonathan is not an enforcement priority, but has been denied release from the Aurora Contract Detention Facility twice.

Moussa* fled Burkina Faso after being attacked and threatened because of his religion and witnessing the murder of his brothers, arranged by military forces. Moussa has been detained at the Pine Prairie Correctional Center since June 2020. Moussa speaks a very rare language and while detained has had no means of communication with other detained individuals or detention facility staff. This is a socially isolating, dangerous situation for him, especially during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Moussa also suffers from severe medical issues that he has struggled to attain adequate assistance for due to language barriers.

*Indicates use of pseudonym
Linda* was detained for over a year and a half in squalid conditions, including periods without water and power, forcing Linda and others in detention to relieve themselves in plastic bags. In ICE custody, Linda was denied use of her inhaler for days on end despite her asthma. While forced to remain in Mexico for four months through the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols, Linda faced immense trauma, including sex trafficking and rape. Linda was denied parole multiple times but was finally released in early April 2021.