President George W. Bush, operating in a post-9/11 environment, expanded the number of detention centers used by ICE to more than 350 nationwide. President Barack Obama consolidated that system, cutting roughly 150 facilities while instituting reforms to improve living conditions. But the overall ICE detention population continued to grow under his watch, reaching 34,000 detainees in his last term.
…Critics say Trump’s rapid expansion has only exacerbated long-standing problems in the detention system, which is long overdue for real oversight and a massive overhaul.
…The problems documented by ICE inspectors ranged from moldy food and filthy bathrooms to high numbers of sexual assault allegations, attempted suicides and claims of guards using force against detainees. A central theme identified by government inspectors was the failure of guards to grasp the difference between running a prison and an immigration detention center.
…The investigation revealed more than 400 allegations of sexual assault or abuse, inadequate medical care, regular hunger strikes, frequent use of solitary confinement, more than 800 instances of physical force against detainees, nearly 20,000 grievances filed by detainees and at least 29 fatalities, including seven suicides.
…Just before one detainee died in Florida, he “vomited feces,” according to a death report written by ICE. Two others detainees died elsewhere after being taken off life support without consent from their relatives. Death reports also show detainees died of pneumonia, heart attacks and internal bleeding. In several instances, the cause of death remains “unknown.”
Detainees say they are denied toothbrushes, toilet paper and warm clothing in the winter. Some say they have been forced to drink water that reeks of chlorine.
…He recalled seeing rocks and pebbles sprinkled into the beans he was served from the cafeteria and green spots dotting the lunch meat.
…The day after his death, 20 other detainees carried out what they say was a peaceful protest. They wrote “Justice for Roylan” on their white T-shirts, sat down in the cafeteria and refused to eat. Guards swooped in and attacked, beating one of them so severely he was taken to a hospital.
…Detainees are forced to work jobs that would otherwise be done by regularly waged employees, according to the lawsuit. Since the detainees listed in the Project South complaint are paid between $1 and $4 a day, that leads to huge savings for private prison operators at the expense of the detainees’ constitutional rights.
…It is now a $3 billion network of 221 facilities, the largest of which are operated by private companies under government contract. Combined, those facilities detain more than 50,000 women, men and children who wait months or years for immigration court proceedings.