As civil rights division opens unprecedented investigation into the New Orleans ICE Field Office, survivors and immigrants’ rights organizations call for closure and releases
NEW ORLEANS –– A coalition of immigrants’ and human rights organizations today delivered a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, demanding immediate intervention from the Biden administration to address torturous and racially discriminatory abuses, unlawful conduct and lack of oversight within immigrant detention centers under the jurisdiction of the New Orleans Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Field Office.
As the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) launches an unprecedented investigation into the entire New Orleans ICE Field Office area of responsibility — which grew three-fold under the Trump administration with new privately-run detention contracts and includes immigrant jails and prisons in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee — the groups are calling for immediate closures of detention centers and releases. While advocates urge the CRCL to conduct a rigorous, transparent and public investigation, the well-documented pattern and practice of egregious, life-threatening harms demonstrates that the field office is beyond the reach of reform.
According to the letter, the pervasive culture of impunity at the New Orleans ICE Field Office has enabled egregious and disturbing practices throughout immigrant prisons under the office’s areas of responsibility, including the unlawful and inhumane detention of children with adults in ICE detention centers; the unlawful use of torture, physical abuse and shackles against Black immigrants to obtain forced, nonconsensual fingerprints and signatures on deportation paperwork; and anti-Black racism, which includes racist harassment and physical abuse as well as disparities in bond amounts, parole grants and release rates among Black and African immigrants.
“Justice is transparency, justice is humans recognizing humans and holding each other accountable,” said Karim Golding, an organizer who was detained by ICE for five years, most recently at Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama. “In my time in detention, I experienced racism and the disregard for other humans. There can be investigations, as the evidence is always there. But when no action is ever taken, it sends a message that this behavior is okay. We won’t be fooled by President Biden and his nice words. We need transparency and real action from his administration and from the leaders of this country. We are the checks and balances!”
“The week I was sent to the ICE detention center in Jena, Louisiana a winter storm cut off our running water and electricity for almost three days,” said Alicia, a Black mother who has been detained for six months despite being eligible for release as a Fraihat class member.
There was feces coming up through the shower drains, everyone was desperately trying to hold in their bowel movements. One woman couldn’t hold it and was humiliated, forced to defecate into a bag in front of others. We begged the GEO warden for help. They cut off our virtual visitation access so we couldn’t complain about the situation. They were supposed to give us bottled water. It didn’t come for almost a week. I was so thirsty that when the water came back on, I drank from the sink. I ended up hospitalized and nearly died from an intestinal bacterial infection. Later that same month, another storm knocked out the running water and electricity again. The GEO leadership was no better prepared than the first time and again seemed completely apathetic to our plight.”
Dozens of immigrants detained at prisons under the field office’s jurisdiction have come forward in recent years to file civil rights complaints detailing the human rights abuses ICE and prison officials subject them to, including widespread deployment of torture, violence and physical abuse; solitary confinement; deprivation of basic human necessities including potable drinking water and life-saving medical care; retaliation in response to public advocacy; indefinite and arbitrary detention due to lack of parole, denials of immigration bonds and denials of asylum claims; and systemic due process violations and unlawful expedited removals.
“The culture of unchecked human rights abuses and impunity at the New Orleans ICE Field Office is endangering the lives of thousands of immigrants detained in remote immigrant jails and prisons across this region,” said Sofia Casini, director of visitation advocacy strategies at Freedom for Immigrants. “We demand a thorough and public accounting of ICE’s transgressions, but that won’t be enough. The long paper trail of unconscionable abuse and anti-Black violence underscores that these immigrant prisons are beyond the reach of reform. The Biden administration must immediately intervene to end these abuses, permanently shut down immigrant detention centers, and release individuals back to the safety of their loved ones and communities.”
"The complaints outlined in this letter shed a bright light on the anti-Blackness and corruption the Biden administration is allowing to run rampant under the jurisdiction of the New Orleans Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office. A closed-door investigation by the civil rights division is simply not enough. The Biden administration must immediately stop the deportations of victims and witnesses, release people without transfers to other facilities, and shut down these dangerous detention centers once and for all," said Matt Vogel, senior staff attorney at the National Immigration Project.
“As demonstrated by the dozens of complaints filed this year alone, the patterns and practices of the NOLA ICE Field Office are characterized by pervasive human rights abuses and anti-Blackness that ICE leadership has effectively condoned. Across these facilities, we have documented the use of racist verbal harassment, life threatening medical neglect, and the illegal detention of minor children, including a 13-year-old, with adults, among other egregious violations. It is time for the Biden Administration to fulfill its promise to end contracts with private prison companies that profit from this abuse, close all NOLA ICE facilities, and release those detained back to their communities,” said Sarah Decker, staff attorney at RFK Human RIghts.
“Secretary Mayorkas must keep his pledge to continue reviewing sites for immediate closure. This dangerous field office was outrageously expanded by the Trump administration against the will of the people of Louisiana. Despite complaints and warnings over the past two years from advocates, oversight agencies and members of Congress, the Biden administration has done nothing to roll them back,” said Mich P. Gonzalez, associate director of SIFI advocacy at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“For years, ICE and its private prison contractors' abuse of the people detained in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama detention centers has gone unchecked,” said Jeremy Jong, Al Otro Lado staff attorney. “Many have been the target of racist beatings and life-threatening indifference to their basic needs. Too many have died. These cages are not fit for human habitation and need to be closed immediately."