ICE: Federally Funded Abuse and Neglect

October 12, 2020 | Texas

By Cheasty Anderson and Sara Albanna 

In recent weeks the news of forced sterilization of women detained at an ICE facility in Georgia has shaken us deeply as a nation. This horrifying and reprehensible abuse is not an isolated case of medical malfeasance within ICE detention facilities (nor, indeed, in American history). Instead, it is one of many recorded abuses that ICE is responsible for, all of which constitute a long-standing, well-documented pattern of abuse and neglect that disproportionately affects Black and Brown women and children. 

This pattern of abuse and assault has been ongoing since the creation of ICE detention for migrants. Throughout the years, ICE has been culpable of multiple allegations of sexual assault, medical neglect of children, deplorable and unsafe conditions, lasting psychological trauma, deportations without due process, and even death. Yet ICE has maintained “deliberate indifference,” as one judge recently described, to the condition of its detainees. This year, amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, has been no exception. 

The following list is meant to illustrate that the forced sterilizations were not the product of one “bad apple” doctor.  Rather, this atrocious abuse of human rights is the inevitable result of a racist prison culture that does not merely tolerate abuse and neglect, but actively perpetrates it upon the bodies of Black and Brown migrants who have been deemed, in many ways, less than fully human. 

As such, here is a list of major cases that have occurred in ICE detention facilities just within the past few months:

  • ICE has not been able to protect detainees from the virus. Since February 2020, there have been 6,271 positive COVID-19 cases in ICE custody. Problems include inadequate testing, insufficient hygiene and cleaning products, failure to track positive cases, not enough personal protective equipment (such as masks), lack of social distancing, and mixing people who tested positive with others who weren’t confirmed as positive. Additionally, ICE has continued to transfer migrants between facilities, which has led to outbreaks. When migrants have organized to advocate for better conditions and/or release, ICE has responded by placing involved individuals in isolation, denying them care, using force against them, blocking access to outside communications, and transferring individuals to other detention facilities.
  • Guards at an ICE detention center in El Paso have allegedly sexually assaulted victims in areas without cameras. A Texas advocacy group filed complaints in August with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General; however, ICE deported a crucial witness in September during the ongoing investigation. This is just one of many instances where sexual assault complaints have been made against guards at ICE facilities.
  • Family Separation has not stopped. Since the start of the pandemic, parents in detention have been put in an impossible position. One option was to stay together as a family in detention, which would put their children at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, for an indefinite amount of time. The second option was to separate from their kids who would be placed with the Office of Refugee Resettlement or sponsors. Under a new policy during the pandemic, at least 577 unaccompanied minors were detained in hotels and deported without due process.
  • In September 2020, several legal advocacy groups filed a whistleblower complaint on behalf of Dawn Wooten, a nurse at an ICE detention center in Georgia, documenting “jarring medical neglect” within the facility. While most people have been focused on investigations concerning the allegations that several women received hysterectomies without consent, the majority of Wooten’s complaints concerned ICE’s mishandling of the pandemic, which are supported by data and reports.
  • Two recently-released Congressional reports outlined the conditions in ICE detention facilities. These reports found that there are shortages of medical staff and ICE fails to provide necessary medical, dental, and mental health care to detainees. One report also highlights serious health risks due to deficient sanitation practices and poor handling of infectious diseases. Meanwhile, the other report concludes that DHS oversight of ICE detention facilities fails to effectively identify and correct deficient conditions, detention facilities often misuse and abuse segregation, and there are many barriers to accessing legal services, case information, and interpreter/translation services.

These systemic abuses are violations of basic human rights, and they disproportionately affect Black and Brown women and children. The effects of the abuse are long-lasting on these people’s mental and physical well-being. The abuse and neglect must stop now. There are many things you can do to help. Some suggestions are staying informed, writing an appeal to release families together, calling your elected officials, and sending a letter of encouragement to families in detention. Check out this action toolkit by Amnesty International for more ideas and details on how to get involved. 



Migrant detention centers have a long history of medical neglect and abuse 

Fatal Neglect: How ICE Ignores Death in Detention 

Systemic Indifference: Dangerous & Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention

A judge calls out ICE’s ‘deliberate indifference’ as health-care horror stories emerge

Immigrants Say They Were Pressured Into Unneeded Surgeries

The Trump Administration’s Mistreatment of Detained Immigrants: Deaths and Deficient Medical Care by For-Profit Detention Contractors

ICE Detention Facilities Failing to Meeting Standards of Care