The debate over immigration and the treatment of undocumented immigrants has been going on for years now. Exacerbated by the campaign and election of president Donald Trump, public backlash and controversy over the work of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been loud and ongoing.
Going into 2020, around 20,000 people are being held in Customs and Border Protection custody, and 50,000 are being held in ICE facilities. The Department of Homeland Security has issued reports of “dangerous overcrowding” at CBP detention centers, and the people there live in unsanitary conditions, with limited access to simple amenities like soap and toothpaste. These conditions have lead to outbreaks of illnesses such as the flu and lice, conditions which pose an even larger threat to young children, seven of which have died after falling ill.
In facilities in which migrants are held as they wait for asylum hearings, reports of abuse by guards have made their way to major news outlets, from USA Today to Time magazine. Detainees have been forced to work for pay no greater than a dollar an hour, and their protests against conditions, which usually take the form of hunger strikes and passive resistance, are met with pepper spray and rubber bullets. Despite the fact that the majority of detainees have not been convicted of a crime outside of illegal immigration, and have often not been provided with lawyers or legal council, the detention centers in which they are held bear uncanny resembelance to US prisons.
Regarding the separation of migrant children from their families, as of the new year over 20 children have yet to be reunited with their parents, though the separation policy at the border has been put to an end.
In light of these possible human rights abuses and violations of international law, top Congressional Democrats summoned the acting commissioner of CBP and the acting Secretary of Homeland Security to testify before the House Oversight Committee at the end of the summer in 2019. The hearing failed to lead to any immediate action, however. Subsequent reviews of ICE and CBP facilities have varied in the conditions they report witnessing.
In 2020, what could have the most impact on the future of immigrant detention in the US is the upcoming election. If President Trump is to win a second term, change in the conditions of ICE and CBP facilities is unlikely. That being said, immigrants have been held in detention centers as part of the US’s immigration policies for many decades now, regardless of what party controlled the federal government.