Detainees in three immigrant detention centers in Illinois and Kentucky have been denied legal counsel, received poor medical care and rarely eat a hot meal, among other human rights violations, advocacy groups said in a report released Monday.
The detention centers, two in Illinois and the other in Kentucky, were the focus in the report by the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center and the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights.
It calls on the Obama administration to cut down on the number of immigrant detainees. It also seeks the closure of the three centers cited: Boone County Jail in Burlington, Ky., Jefferson County Jail in Mt. Vernon, Ill., and the Tri-County Detention Center in Ullin, Ill.
The conclusions are based on 21 visits to the three prisons since 2009. Advocates from both groups argue that conditions at the facilities have not improved since the federal government announced reforms in 2009 and that the three facilities, all located in rural areas, encourage inhumane conditions.
"When you have no one watching or involved from the outside, it creates an environment when people are vulnerable to abuse and neglect," said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the justice center, which is part of the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance.
The report, which finds closing the detention centers will save taxpayer money, calls on the federal government to halt proposals for new immigrant detention facilities nationwide, including a proposed center in Crete, Ill.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released an email statement that said the agency "takes any allegation of misconduct or negligence at our detention facilities very seriously." It said there are strict standards and annual inspections at all facilities and that the three cited in the report had "received passing grades."
The federal government contracts with roughly 250 local prisons across the country to detain immigrants. In 2009, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano responded to criticism about the treatment of immigrant detainees by announcing a series of initiatives aimed at reforming the center.
But McCarthy said poor conditions persist. The group focused on three centers in the Midwest that appeared to have the worst conditions.
Among the issues outlined in the report:
- Detainees at Jefferson County Jail were told they had to pay for medical treatment, reported excessively cold conditions where they had to share blankets and said they only got a hot meal once every one to two weeks.
- Detainees at Boone County Jail said it was almost impossible to contact attorneys. One detainee said a doctor had told him that a growth on his neck required further testing and might be cancerous, but the detainee was repeatedly denied requests to see a doctor. Another HIV-positive detainee was not allowed to see a doctor for more than six weeks.
- Detainees at Tri-County Detention Center said there is only one phone for every 50 detainees, making it difficult to call attorneys.
"For many of the individuals in those facilities, they're not able to make a connection with an attorney and are not aware of their legal rights," McCarthy said.
The Obama administration has deported roughly 400,000 undocumented immigrants each year, which is a record.
But advocates have long complained that many of those deported haven't committed crimes.
Earlier this year, the administration announced it would expand the use of what's known as prosecutorial discretion. It's the ability of immigration authorities at every level from arresting officers to judges to decide whether to pursue a case. The idea was to focus resources on prosecuting and deporting immigrants who have committed crimes rather than immigrants without legal status who have no criminal record.
Advocates in the report called on the Obama administration to expand the use of prosecutorial discretion to help cut down on detained immigrants.
McCarthy said officials with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement were sent copies of the report last week. An ICE spokeswoman in Chicago, which oversees many Midwest states, provided no immediate comment.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.