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The State of Arizona Immigration Detention Centers: “We often pray to be deported, just to get out of here”

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A recent report released by the ACLU in Arizona looks at the conditions of immigration detention centers in the state. The report describes conditions in every detention center in Arizona and concluded that detention centers are not fit for any human being. The report also found that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has fallen short of enforcing its standards in these facilities. On any given day, over 3,000 immigrants are detained in Arizona, which is a 58% increase over the last six years. Arizona detainees account for 10% of the U.S.’s total detainee population.

Among the findings in the report, since 2007, the Pinal County Jail has received “deficient” ratings for conditions of detention, yet ICE continues to contract with the county for beds to hold undocumented immigrants. At the Eloy Detention Center (a privately operated detention facility – and one of the largest in the country) detainees’ complaints go unanswered and officers are rarely held accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, conditions in Arizona detention centers for LGBT immigrants are worse than those of the average detainee. LGBT detainees often face harassment, discrimination, and abuse, both at the hands of other detainees as well as detention officers. For instance, in Pinal County, a gay man was raped multiple times by a fellow detainee and a county prosecutor refused to prosecute the case. LGBT detainees, who are considered “vulnerable populations,” are often placed in protective custody, also known as solitary confinement or segregation. Detainees in “protective custody” are locked up in their cell for 23 hours a day and shackled (arms, ankles and waist) when they leave their cells for the one-hour a day they spend outside of their cell or if they have visitors. Because their one hour out of confinement is often late in the day, these detainees are also denied access to facility services, such as the detention center’s law library. Because these “vulnerable” detainees are often placed in segregation for months, they struggle for medical attention and are unable to access available counsel.

The ACLU report, accessible here as a PDF , concludes with recommendations for ICE to improve conditions and accountability standards in Arizona detention facilities. Such recommendations include providing training to officers on how to identify vulnerable populations, only using segregation as a last resort, and extending the Prison Rape Elimination Act’s protections to immigration detention facilities. Immigration Equality hears from LGBT detainees facing inhumane conditions of detention throughout the country and applauds the ACLU’s report which spotlights what is wrong with our “civil” immigration system. Let us hope that ICE bears in mind these changes soon.

Nicholas Buhr is the Summer Legal Intern in our Washington, D.C. office.

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