Black immigrants in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) disproportionately face abuse while in detention, a report released last week finds.
Published by several organizations including the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and Freedom for Immigrants (FFI), the report argues that this discriminatory treatment of Black immigrants is the result of the legacy of anti-Blackness that permeates government institutions, and the immigration detention system is no exception. The report calls for the end of immigration detention.
The groups analyzed thousands of phone calls made to FFI’s National Immigration Detention Hotline from 2016 to 2021 and included testimony of several Black immigrants who experienced discriminatory treatment while detained in ICE custody.
While Black immigrants account for only 6% of people in ICE detention, they accounted for 28% of all abuse-related calls to the Detention Hotline. Further, more than half of the calls FFI categorized as high-intensity and life-threatening were made on behalf of Black immigrants.
This mistreatment was not isolated to a particular region of the country. FFI received complaints about discriminatory treatment based on anti-Blackness from individuals detained throughout the country.
The report also highlights the need for the collection of race and ethnicity data by the federal agencies tasked with enforcement. ICE does not keep data about the race or ethnicity of detained individuals and thereby avoids oversight and accountability. Watchdog agencies such as the Office of Inspector General and the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties that respond to reports of ICE misconduct fail to maintain race and ethnicity data unless the complainants report it in the body of the complaint.
Accordingly, researchers investigating discriminatory treatment of Black immigrants have to conduct research by relying on detained individuals’ country of nationality as a proxy for race. In other words, researchers ascribe race to an individual based on whether they come from a country where the population is majority Black. This is not a perfect solution, as Black immigrants from countries that are not Black-majority are left out of the analysis.
To get a complete and accurate picture of what happens to Black immigrants in detention, the government must adopt policies requiring agencies to keep data on race and ethnicity.
From the atrocious living conditions at the Torrance County Detention Facility—documented by DHS’ Office of Inspector General—to the complaints filed on behalf of immigrants who experienced explicit racists treatment at the Denver Contract Detention Facility, the evidence shows time and time again that our immigration detention system is irreversibly broken.
The stories of those detained individuals subject to abuse because of anti-Blackness conjures some of the worst moments in our nation’s history. All too often these individuals end up in detention as a direct consequence of policing tactics that criminalize communities of color, demonstrating the systemic and inherent racial bias in our immigration enforcement system.
Immigration detention is part of our nation’s epidemic of mass incarceration. It comes at great cost to families, communities, and taxpayers–and great profit to private prison companies. The United States should end immigration detention. We should instead focus on supporting individuals as they pursue their immigration cases outside of detention, where they can continue to care for themselves and their families in a healthy environment.