SPECIAL REPORT: Abuse motivated by hate and bias in U.S. immigration detention



“Shut your black ass up. You don’t deserve nothing. You belong at the back of that cage.”

"[Go] look in the mirror to see King Kong.”

“No one will believe baboon complaints.”  


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These are just a few examples of the hateful language U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and contracted immigrant prison guards have directed toward people in U.S. immigration detention.  Often this language is accompanied by physical abuse, sexual harassment, or denial of access to resources. Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC), a national nonprofit that visits and monitors immigrant prisons and jails, has been documenting abuse in U.S. immigration detention since 2012.  

The report, "Persecuted in U.S. Immigration Detention: A National Report on Abuse Motivated by Hate," is the first national study on abuse motivated by hate and bias in U.S. immigration detention.

Since January 20, 2017, when Donald Trump became the President of the United States, Freedom for Immigrants has documented at least 800 complaints of abuse motivated by hate or bias in 34 immigration detention jails and prisons.

These complaints were collected through visits and other forms of direct communication with people in U.S. immigration detention. The affected individuals come from 62 countries speaking 22 languages. The majority of complaints came from men (71.01 percent), while 28.4 percent from women.

Less than 1 percent of people who reported incidents of hate or bias to us identified as transgender, gender non-conforming, or genderqueer.  While the majority of people who reported these incidents represent a cisgender and heterosexual demographic, we do not believe this is representative of the impact of hate and bias in immigration detention on transgender, gender non-conforming, or genderqueer people. Therefore, we do not present this report as comprehensive analysis of incidents of hate and bias in immigration detention.

Some of these documented incidents of abuse are clearly motivated by hate, such as when an officer called someone a “dog” and told them to “go fetch your food” at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, California.  Other times, the motivation for the abuse may be less explicit, but people in immigration detention understand that it is a result of a system designed to imprison and dehumanize them because of their race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.  For example, Nancy Mayer, a lesbian woman previously detained at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, California, informed Freedom for Immigrants that she felt “persecuted” on account of her sexual orientation, noting that she had been placed in a part of the facility segregated from the other women.

While Freedom for Immigrants has witnessed a rise in abuse motivated by hate and bias in U.S. immigration detention under the Trump administration, the Obama administration also perpetrated abuse motivated by hate and bias.  Freedom for Immigrants filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for incident of and responses to complaints or grievances related to “hate crimes” or incidents motivated by prejudice in ICE-contracted immigrant prisons and jails from fiscal year 2010 through July 19, 2017.  On October 19, 2017, we received a response with a total of only 86 reported complaints in this nearly seven-year period, indicating that DHS is clearly not properly categorizing or tracking abuse motivated by hate and bias.

As an organization that works directly with individuals detained across the country, we have seen how people in immigration detention suffer as a result.  In this report, we explore 49 stories of abuse in U.S. immigration detention motivated by hate, gathered through visits, phone calls, and letter-writing with people in immigration detention as well as through reported complaints we obtained from DHS.

We hope this report will be the beginning of a conversation among advocates, legislators, and officials within this administration to prevent incidents of hate and bias in U.S. immigration detention.  



CORRECTION: The second page of the report wrongly attributes the quote, “[Go] look in the mirror to see King Kong” to Bristol County House of Corrections in Massachusetts. The quote was originally from a guard at the Pinal County Jail in Arizona, which is correctly identified in Page 6 of the report.