Ailing Justice: Texas. Soaring Immigration Detention, Shrinking Due Process

Key Findings:

  • Many immigrants in Texas, including asylum seekers, remain in unnecessary, lengthy, and prolonged detention—sometimes for well over one year. Among those in prolonged detention: a Honduran grandmother with diabetes and hypertension detained for 18 months; a Mexican man detained for over two years, asylum seekers from Guinea and Cameroon detained for sixteen months, and; an award-winning Mexican journalist detained for nearly a year despite support from the National Press Club and the Committee to Protect Journalists. At the West Texas Detention Facility, women from China, Cameroon, Nigeria, and India have been detained for so long—as long as one year and eight months—that they have learned to speak Spanish nearly fluently.
  • At some Texas detention facilities, release on parole is essentially non-existent and bond amounts are set too high for many to afford, leaving asylum seekers and other immigrants in detention even when they meet release requirements. ICE often fails to follow its own asylum parole directive, continuing to detain asylum seekers who pass screening interviews, sufficiently prove their identity, and do not present a security or flight risk. The El Paso ICE Field Office, which covers four major detention facilities, denied all 349 parole applications filed between February and September 2017. It denied parole, for example, to an HIV-positive Venezuelan asylum seeker who had identity proof and a U.S. legal resident parole sponsor. A Honduran asylum seeker fleeing persecution based on his sexual orientation could not afford a $7,500 bond and was detained in the Port Isabel facility and the South Texas Detention Complex for ten months, until the immigration court granted him asylum.
  • The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) use of family separation causes significant trauma, as does the detention of families with children. A Honduran asylum seeker at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center was separated from her one year and nine-month-old son after requesting asylum at a port of entry, and then waited two weeks before learning where he had been taken. The American Academy of Pediatrics has condemned the practice of family separation, saying it “can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health.”
  • Detention is a barrier to legal representation—a barrier exacerbated by the lack of funding, the remote location of Texas detention facilities, and the lack of confidential attorney-client visitation rooms, among other impediments. Many immigrants in Texas detention—an estimated 90 percent in the Houston area and at least 72 percent statewide—do not have legal representation. The problem persists even though representation leads to high appearance rates and successful asylum and other immigration grant rates. Texas attorneys reported long waits—from two to six hours—for client meetings, frequent transfers of detainees, limited confidentiality, and access impediments for legal assistants, law students, and interpreters. ICE officials and Texas attorneys also expressed concern about the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) temporary suspension of the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), which provides legal information to over 30,000 immigration detainees in Texas annually. While the DOJ reversed the suspension in the face of bipartisan Congressional concern, the agency still plans to “review” the program.
  • Asylum seekers and other immigrants detained in Texas immigration facilities endure inhumane treatment and jail-like conditions. Many detained immigrants, particularly non-English speakers, endure frequent racist comments, harassment, unjustified use of force, and other mistreatment from medical and correctional staff. Detainees at two facilities reported retaliation for filing grievances, including placement in solitary confinement, and responses including, “You can write to Trump.” A detainee from a Muslim majority country says he was called a “stupid Taliban terrorist” and a “Muslim terrorist” by officers and medical staff at the El Paso Processing Center. Detainees at five facilities complained of used underwear or other dirty clothing, which caused vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, and rashes. Several women also reported receiving insufficient sanitary napkins.
  • Women detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center reported sexual assault by facility officers. Sexual assault at the facility was first reported in 2007 and, recently, Laura Monterrosa said she was sexually assaulted and retaliated against for speaking out. Detainees and community groups report that phone calls are monitored and sometimes cut off when women mention inappropriate or retaliatory conduct by facility staff.
  • Many immigrants detained in Texas report denial of or inadequate medical care and long waits to receive treatment. A Mexican detainee suffering from both kidney stones and a shoulder injury was told to choose which he wanted treated as it was too costly to treat both. An older detainee has a prior spinal cord injury that is causing pain and numbness in his limbs. Despite repeated pleas, he was not evaluated and was provided only over the counter pain medication. Also, following a December 2017 policy change ending the presumption of release for pregnant women, ICE is detaining many pregnant women in Texas despite the well-documented harmful effects of detention on both pregnant women and fetal development.
  • Mental health services are insufficient at Texas detention facilities, and fear of punitive treatment and over-medication force many to try to cope on their own. For example, a Salvadoran asylum seeker placed on suicide watch for over ten days after his arrival at a Houston detention facility has not received mental health treatment. “I can’t go back to El Salvador because of gang violence so it would be better to just kill myself here,” he said. “If I’m deported, I know I will be killed and my family won’t even be able to bury my body.”

Congress and the Trump Administration should end the massive overuse of detention—which is both violating the human rights of immigrants and costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars—and implement reforms to improve oversight, detention conditions, and legal release procedures, as detailed in the recommendations at the end of this report. For cases where additional measures are necessary to ensure compliance, ICE should use community-based alternatives, which are more humane and cost-efficient than detention, and which have produced high appearance rates.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Justice should stop curtailing access to legal counsel. Instead, the U.S. government, along with Texas state and local governments, should provide funding for legal representation for immigrants, particularly those in detention.


Published on June 14, 2018


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