“Detainees described overcrowding so severe that “it was difficult to move in any direction without jostling and being jostled.” The water provided them was foul, “of a dark color, and an ordinary glass would collect a thick sediment.” The “authorities never removed any filth.” A detainee wrote that the “only shelter from the sun and rain and night dews, was what we could make by stretching over us our coats or scraps of blanket.” As for the food, “Our ration was in quality a starving one, it being either too foul to be touched or too raw to be digested.””.
Adam Sewer from The Atlantic collects the description of life at a detention center in McAllen, Texas on June 22 of 2020 from former detainees. Nearly 2 years after the initial outrage that parents were being separated from their young children, these centers have lost attention in the media. Conditions in these camps have only gotten worse since the spread of the Coronavirus, with little to no protection for people with a weakened immune system or the mass majority of these immigrants. Only after several lawsuits against ICE to let several people with significant immune system vulnerabilities- Dada vs. Witte, Tamayo Espinoza vs. Witte, Archilla vs. Witte to name a few- were allowed to be released according to ccrjustice.org.
Detention camps have been around in the United States since the late 1980’s, where they would only detain around 50 people per day. The camps continued to grow slowly in numbers from presidency to presidency until the Trump Administration . One of President Trump’s goals as president was to lower the amount of illegal immigrants, and rather immigrants in general from coming into the United States. As soon as 2017, 40 new detention centers along the border have been built, with that number continuing to grow. According to ICE’s official government website, more than 200 facilities are in use today, with about 50,000 immigrants being detained on an average day according to the Human Rights Watch.
This interview with former detainee Alejandra describes the effects that the pandemic have had in these centers. She was detained at the Eloy Detention Center for 8 months and La Palma Correctional Center for 3 months. Interviewed by Drew English from aclu.org: “Before turning myself over to immigration, I was waiting in Nogales, Mexico. I had trouble with the mafia there, and they cut off the thumb on my right hand. They told me to leave and that they didn’t want to see me again. I was in very bad shape, bleeding so much.” She continued to say, “eventually I was transferred to La Palma. When the Coronavirus situation first happened people were all crammed together, with no face coverings. They didn’t give us hand sanitizer or gloves, none of that. The [corrections officers] would work and cough, without any face coverings or protection. They are the ones coming from outside.”
According to BBC News, New York Times and HRW, for immigrants caught in this system, life can often be described as a nightmare of rampant medical neglect, overuse of solitary confinement, sexual abuse, excessive use of force, arbitrary transfers to other facilities across the country, unreasonably high bond costs, and long periods spent away from family members and loved ones or being separated from them altogether.
A report from The Human Rights Watch (HRW) taken on April 30th of 2020 highlights a few atrocities within these camps:
As of January 2020, 81 percent of detained people are in facilities owned and/or operated by private companies.
For Fiscal Year 2021, the Trump administration has requested that taxpayers fund ICE at $4.1 billion, with the intent to expand ICE’s daily detention capacity to 60,000 people on any given day. In some centers, capacity is over this maximum.
Since the start of 2017, 39 adults have died in ICE custody or immediately after being released. Independent medical expert analyses of these deaths have found subpar care contributed to these deaths.
Detained immigrants told researchers about facilities taking a week to set a broken bone and that necessary medication, such as inhalers for asthma, were often not available
Immigrants in detention centers opened under the Trump administration are extremely isolated from access to attorneys. Facilities opened before 2017 have four times as many immigration attorneys available within a 100-mile radius as those which have opened under the Trump administration.
To many American citizens, these centers are either unknown or a spectacle of our current state of affairs. Jack Williams, Senior at Fruita Monument explains, “They are a horrible idea and I think they should definitely be outlawed.” Whether you agree with these centers or not, they are a real, present situation in our country.