Conditions in Immigration Detention Facilities & Legal Rights of Foreign Nationals
If you are a foreign national who has been placed in immigration detention by ICE, you will be housed at a detention facility unless and until you get bond. These facilities are often located in the same complex with jails or prisons, which may be privately operated or operated by the state or federal government. Sometimes an immigration court and an asylum office will be located in the same building as the detention facility.
Men and women usually are housed in separate detention facilities, but sometimes women and children may be housed together in family detention facilities if they are seeking asylum. Foreign nationals who have a criminal record or otherwise may be dangerous will not be housed separately from foreign nationals who do not pose a safety risk. ICE will not necessarily tell you how long you can expect to be detained if you do not get bond, so many foreign nationals understandably find this situation unnerving. Detention centers tend to be located in remote areas, which can make it difficult to stay in touch with family members and people in the community.
Living in a Detention Center
A foreign national may be forced to give up many personal belongings when they enter detention, and they will be required to take a certain bed. The bed is usually in a large room with other foreign nationals who have been detained, so there is little privacy and limited freedom of movement. A foreign national may be required to wear a jumpsuit, and officers will monitor them as though they were in prison. The officers will refer to each foreign national by their alien registration number or possibly their bed number. They will conduct roll calls (or “counts”) at various times throughout the day to make sure that all of the detainees are present. While the authorities will provide food, a detainee might be forced to miss a meal if they meet with a visitor or an attorney during a scheduled meal time.
You will have little recourse for complaining about the unkind or unresponsive treatment of guards at detention centers. If you have suffered from serious misconduct, such as sexual abuse, assault, or deprivation of food and water, you should record the incidents that happened to you and bring them to the attention of your attorney. Certain charitable organizations will send representatives to immigration detention facilities, and they can help you find an attorney if you do not have an attorney already.
Contact With the Outside World
Considering the challenges of living in a detention facility, contact with people outside the facility may become especially important. You may need to pay to make a phone call, or you may need to make a collect call, for which the other person pays. Some detention facilities allow foreign nationals to make free calls to certain legal aid groups. You should be aware that you cannot receive phone calls, with some exceptions for emergency situations, and your phone conversations may not be private. You may not be allowed to make international calls. Many foreign nationals use mail as an alternative to phone calls, but sending and receiving mail can take a long time because the authorities will screen it in both directions.
Family members and friends can visit a foreign national in immigration detention during visiting hours, as can their lawyer. Visiting hours for the lawyer may be separate. You may be able to meet with someone from the outside in the open, or you may be required to talk to them through a plastic window with an intercom. Officers usually restrict physical contact between foreign nationals in detention and their visitors.
Immigration Law Center Contents