Abuse of Black immigrants in New Orleans ICE Detention

‘Unchecked Culture of Abuse’: Groups Demand Federal Intervention Amid ICE Field Office’s Anti-Blackness and Life-Endangering Violations

A coalition of immigrants’ rights 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 disturbing practices throughout the office’s area 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, non-consenual fingerprints and signatures on deportation paperwork; and other forms of anti-Black racism, which include racist harassment and physical abuse, as well as disparities in bond amounts, parole grants and release rates among Black and African immigrants.

Dozens of immigrants detained 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, and previously and currently detained leaders continue to call for accountability from the Biden administration and the closure of immigrant detention centers. 

“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 the 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!”

“These places are not even physically sound and should be closed, even for the safety of those who work there,” said Alicia, a Black mother who has been detained for six months despite being eligible for release as a Fraihat class member. “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, and there was feces coming up through the shower drains. We begged the GEO warden for help, but 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 ended up hospitalized and nearly died from an intestinal bacterial infection. When 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.” 

The rampant abuses documented in the letter include widespread deployment of torture, violence and physical abuse; solitary confinement; deprivation of basic human necessities 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 why 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,” said Matt Vogel, senior staff attorney at the National Immigration Project. “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.”

“As demonstrated by the dozens of complaints filed this year alone, the patterns and practices of the New Orleans ICE Field Office are characterized by pervasive human rights abuses and anti-Blackness that ICE leadership has effectively condoned,” said Sarah Decker, staff attorney at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “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.”

“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.”

“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 that back,” said Mich P. Gonzalez, associate director of SIFI advocacy at the SPLC.

The organizations signing the letter include ACLU of Louisiana Foundation, ACLU of Mississippi, Adelante Alabama Worker Center, Al Otro Lado, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Cameroon Advocacy Network, Freedom for Immigrants, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Home is Here NOLA, Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy (ISLA), Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention, Mississippi Center for Justice, National Immigration Project (NIPNLG), Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Shut Down Etowah, and Southern Poverty Law Center.