New Report Documents Mental, Physical, Legal Impact of Increased Detention in Texas
Houston, Texas—As the Trump Administration ramps up detention of refugees and migrants as part of its zero-tolerance policy, Human Rights First today released a new report analyzing the mental, physical, and legal impacts of the massive growth of immigration detention in Texas. The report follows visits made by Human Rights First researchers to Texas facilities including eight that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses to detain individuals in Houston, Conroe, Taylor, El Paso, Pearsall, Laredo, and Sierra Blanca. The report documents sexual assault complaints, family separation, harassment, lack of legal representation, and inadequate medical and mental health care.
“The Trump Administration’s campaign to detain vulnerable people desperately seeking protection in the United States is part of a broader attack on the asylum and refugee systems, designed to punish people fleeing for their lives,” said Human Rights First’s Eleni Bakst, the primary researcher for today’s report. “Texas is ground zero for refugee and immigrant detention, with far more men, women, and children held here than in any other state. Asylum seekers and immigrants often suffer lengthy detentions, separation from children, and even dirty under-garments. In many Texas facilities, ICE has essentially stopped granting parole to asylum seekers, with a few exceptions, leading to unnecessary, lengthy, and prolonged detention. Many Texas facilities used for immigration detention are actually criminal jails or have conditions identical to those in prisons. These difficulties, coupled with substandard medical and mental healthcare, exacerbate the suffering of traumatized individuals.”
One such individual is Emilio Gutierrez Soto, an award-winning Mexican journalist held in U.S. immigration detention for over eleven months. He is currently at the El Paso Processing Center along with his son, Oscar, even though their requests for asylum and release on parole are supported by the National Press Club, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and other press freedom groups. Mr. Gutierrez Soto and his son pose no flight or security risk and have complied with all ICE requirements for their parole. Since being detained, they have suffered greatly. Human Rights First researchers interviewed over 147 immigration detainees as well as numerous attorneys and advocates at Texas non-profit legal organizations, federal public defenders, and ICE representatives.
Based on these visits to the Texas detention centers, Human Rights First found the following:
- Many immigrants in Texas, including asylum seekers, remain in unnecessary, lengthy, and prolonged detention—some for well over one year.
- 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.
- The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) family separation policy causes significant trauma, as does the detention of families with children.
- Detention is a barrier to legal representation—a barrier exacerbated by the lack of funding, the remote location of Texas detention facilities, the lack of confidential attorney-client visitation rooms, among other impediments.
- Asylum seekers and other immigrants detained in Texas immigration facilities endure inhumane treatment and jail-like conditions.
- Women detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center reported sexual assault by facility officers.
- Many immigrants detained in Texas report denial of or inadequate medical care and long waits to receive medications.
- Mental health services are insufficient at several Texas detention facilities, and fear of punitive treatment and over-medication force many to try to cope on their own.
Today’s report also includes the following recommendations for DHS, ICE, and detention facility operators:
- End unnecessary, costly, and inhumane immigration detention.
- Support access to legal representation.
- Strengthen standards and oversight.
- Address medical and mental health care deficiencies and gaps.
“Even though legal representation is critical to proving eligibility for asylum and other immigration relief, the overwhelming majority of those held in immigration detention facilities in Texas are unrepresented in these complex legal proceedings,” said Laura Nally, managing attorney in Human Rights First’s Houston office. “For people seeking protection from persecution, the lack of legal representation can be a matter of life or death.”