Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are needlessly locked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while they await a determination of their immigration status or face deportation and removal proceedings, all at tremendous taxpayer expense.
ICE has a network of more than 200 jails and detention centers across the country, but in recent years the agency has disproportionately expanded into the Deep South, particularly rural areas of Louisiana. This further isolates immigrants from their families and communities, making it more difficult for them to access legal counsel and ultimately increasing the likelihood that they will lose their cases.
Working with our partner, New Orleans-based Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy (ISLA), Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has been investigating the conditions of one of these for-profit facilities, the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Louisiana, run by the GEO Group, to understand the day-to-day experiences of immigrants put under ICE’s care. What we found was appalling:
People regularly being given moldy, cold, and inedible food, contrary to ICE’s own requirements that meals meet certain basic standards and not be used for punishment.
Limited access to clean drinking water.
Crowded cells with limited access to hand sanitizer, masks, or other COVID-19 precautions.
Personnel and officers who are overtly hostile, particularly toward Black and African immigrants.
Most egregious of all is the facility’s excessive, prolonged, and often racially driven use of solitary confinement. Pine Prairie’s staff use the practice in lieu of proper social distancing and other medical care, for people experiencing mental health crises, and to punish people for “behavioral” issues, including hunger strikes and peaceful protests for racial justice—to the point of constituting torture under international human rights law.
We’ve filed an urgent complaint with the Department of Homeland Security, alongside ISLA and 15 other immigrant rights groups, demanding the agency take action to investigate Pine Prairie and hold ICE’s New Orleans field office accountable for failing to meet the agency’s own basic standards of care.
The occupant of the White House has changed, but the problems plaguing the U.S. immigration system remain the same. It’s time to shut down the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center and demand an end to immigration detention.