In two incredibly in-depth stories, USA Today highlights the corruption within ICE detention centers across the US that has lead to severe trauma, physical harm, and death of migrants. Since President Trump’s election, spending for detention centers has skyrocketed, centers have multiplied and a record number of migrants have been subjected to ICE’s abuse.
In “’These people are profitable’: Under Trump, private prisons are cashing in on ICE detainees,” USA Today’s team of investigative journalists exposes how private prisons are profiting off vulnerable migrants, and using their cash flow to donate to Republican politicians — including Trump. The story is also available in Spanish here.
In “Deaths in custody. Sexual violence. Hunger strikes. What we uncovered inside ICE facilities across the US,” the team of journalists blow the doors open on the horrific conditions migrants are forced to endure while being detained in ICE custody. The story is also available in Spanish here.
“It’s no secret that conditions within detention centers are reprehensible, but these reports are truly horrific,” said Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice. “This is Trump’s legacy: tens of thousands of vulnerable migrants caged and subjected to torture on United States soil when there are cost effective, humane alternatives to detention that would lead to greater justice and compliance with the law. There are no words to describe the damage he has done to the lives of these people, especially the children who have been subjected to substandard care for profit. This is a stain on our country, and our democracy and underscores the moral decline under President Trump, his white nationalist advisor Stephen Miller and the Republican Party. The Statue of Liberty hangs her head in shame.”
The use of private prisons to detain immigrants is not new, but the business has exploded under Trump. At least 24 immigration detention centers and more than 17,000 beds were added in the past three years to the sprawling detention system run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
A USA TODAY Network investigation found that the companies operating those centers have generated record-setting revenue since 2016 while making record-setting political donations – primarily to Republicans, including Trump – as political figures moved freely between government policy roles and jobs in the private immigration industry.
The booming business spends $3 billion a year housing a record high of roughly 50,000 people, the majority of whom have no criminal record. The investigation revealed more than 400 allegations of sexual assault or abuse, inadequate medical care, regular hunger strikes, frequent use of solitary confinement, more than 800 instances of physical force against detainees, nearly 20,000 grievances filed by detainees and at least 29 fatalities, including seven suicides, since Trump took office in January 2017 and launched an overhaul of U.S. immigration policies.
… The private prison industry set highs for federal campaign contributions in the 2016 presidential election cycle, spending more than $1.7 million, then again in 2018 by spending more than $1.9 million. Most of the money went to Republican causes, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the Federal Election Commission.
Trump has received more than 25 times the amount of contributions that President Barack Obama received over his entire eight years in office – $969,000 to Trump and $38,000 to Obama. The industry donated to people inside Trump’s inner circle, including Vice President Mike Pence, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley while each served as governor of their home states.
Private prison companies spent millions more in federal lobbying efforts and hired people in Trump’s orbit, including former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who works at the White House, and Brian Ballard, Trump’s former campaign finance chief in the critical swing state of Florida.
… The USA TODAY Network uncovered the Richwood episode during an investigation of the rapidly growing network of detention centers used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The investigation revealed more than 400 allegations of sexual assault or abuse, inadequate medical care, regular hunger strikes, frequent use of solitary confinement, more than 800 instances of physical force against detainees, nearly 20,000 grievances filed by detainees and at least 29 fatalities, including seven suicides, since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017 and launched an overhaul of U.S. immigration policies.
Combined with an analysis by a government watchdog, the USA TODAY Network analyzed inspection reports since 2015 and identified 15,821 violations of detention standards. Yet more than 90% of those facilities received passing grades by government inspectors. Network reporters interviewed 35 former and current detainees, some conducted using video chats from inside an ICE detention center. They reviewed hundreds of documents from lawsuits, financial records and government contracts, and toured seven ICE facilities from Colorado to Texas to Florida. Such tours are extremely rare.
… Two-thirds of detainees have no criminal records, ICE records show. About 26% are detained solely because they are requesting asylum in the U.S. That is why ICE policy mandates that immigration detention be civil in nature – an administrative hold on detainees as they await deportation or their next hearing – as opposed to a punitive, corrective prison system. But the USA TODAY Network review found that the ICE system operates in many ways like a prison system; detainees wear red and orange jumpsuits that sometimes read “inmate” on the back.
Just before one detainee died in Florida, he “vomited feces,” according to a death report written by ICE. Two others detainees died elsewhere after being taken off life support without consent from their relatives. Death reports also show detainees died of pneumonia, heart attacks and internal bleeding. In several instances, the cause of death remains “unknown.”
Detainees say they are denied toothbrushes, toilet paper and warm clothing in the winter. Some say they have been forced to drink water that reeks of chlorine. Others allege that guards respond to peaceful protests with rubber bullets and tear gas, and that staff has cut off their recreation time, family visitations and other basic services without explanation.
Critics say Trump’s rapid expansion has only exacerbated long-standing problems in the detention system, which is long overdue for real oversight and a massive overhaul.