Immigration Detention Conditions
Advocating for Community-Based Alternatives to Immigration Detention
” . . . the realities of confinement are indisputably bleak, regardless of whether individuals are considered detainees or criminals.” —Nayha Arora (JD ’16) reflects on the conditions immigrant detainees face similar to that of incarcerated convicted criminals.
During my quarter in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, I have had the opportunity to both represent an individual client in her case and research policy issues that affect the immigrant community broadly. One of these issues is immigration detention. In March, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began moving immigrant detainees from facilities in Sacramento and Yuba to the newly-opened Mesa Verde Detention Facility, a private detention center run by the GEO Group located in Bakersfield, California. Together with our clinic supervisor, my classmates and I drove roughly five hours from Palo Alto to Bakersfield to visit the new facility in mid-May.
Under the law, immigrants in removal proceedings are detained if they are considered flight risks or dangers to public safety. Detainees are not criminals, however. I was interested to see whether this distinction influenced the conditions and operations of the detention facility.
We were greeted at Mesa Verde by the Warden, his assistant, and two officers. They gave us a tour of the facility, which feels and looks similar to some county jails. The grounds of Mesa Verde are surrounded by a barbed wired fence. When detainees enter the facility, all their belongings are taken from them, and they are given a uniform. Detainees’ activities and schedules, from recreation to visitation, are all subject to facility approval and carefully monitored. Medical resources are limited, as well; the medical unit employs only one part-time physician, dentist, and psychiatrist for 400 people.
Personally, I was most struck by the silence in the hallways, communal spaces, and dormitories. Recreation areas and the library were vacant, and there was little chatter or interaction among individuals. The tour confirmed for me that the realities of confinement are indisputably bleak, regardless of whether individuals are considered detainees or criminals.
Detention and confinement present innumerable challenges in detainees’ day-to-day lives. As long as immigration detention is an accepted practice, however, I am hopeful that government, private prison companies, and immigration advocates can secure the highest standard of representation and treatment for immigrant detainees.