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Watchdog group's report condemns immigrant detention facilities

Immigrants sit in their housing cell in the women's wing of the detention facility for illegal immigrants on July 30, 2010 in Eloy, Arizona.
Immigrants sit in their housing cell in the women's wing of the detention facility for illegal immigrants on July 30, 2010 in Eloy, Arizona.
John Moore/Getty Images

An immigrant advocacy watchdog group has released a report that condemns conditions and raises other concerns at 10 of the nation's federal immigrant detention centers, including an Orange, Calif. facility used to detain immigrants who face deportation.

The report focuses on facilities in California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Illinois, Alabama, New Jersey and Georgia. Volunteers who interviewed detainees during tours of the centers compiled the allegations. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said they are reviewing the allegations. They range from overcrowding and vermin-infested food at a facility in Pinal County, Arizona to the death of a detainee at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, a contractor-operated center. The report says a 39-year-old man died there in March 2009 from an otherwise curable heart infection after he didn't receive timely medical treatment. 

Unlike the Georgia detention center, a privately run facility contracted by ICE,  Orange County uses the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange to house criminal inmates; the county also contracts out bed space to the federal agency for detainee use. The report alleges that the Lacy staff harassed and discriminated against detainees. Here's an excerpt:

A majority of the groups independently reported having experienced racism and verbal abuse by some staff members, although most staff acted with respect and professionalism. People described having witnessed facility staff call a black man “nigger” and a Middle Eastern man a “camel.” One person observed that he was treated better than others and expressed that he felt it was because his skin color was white. One group noted that the staff had mocked them at dinner one night by saying "Let the US citizens go first before the aliens.”

ICE officials said that all detention facilities are subject to "regular, rigorous inspections," and the agency inspected the Lacy facility a year ago and found that it was in compliance. From an agency statement:

"ICE is in the process of fully reviewing the reports. However, it is disappointing that the reports appear to be built primarily on anonymous allegations that cannot be investigated or substantiated, and many second hand sources and anecdotes that pre-date the agency’s initiation of detention reform. ICE stands behind the significant work we’ve done reforming the detention system by increasing federal oversight, improving conditions of confinement and prioritizing the health and safety of the individuals in our custody."

The reforms referred to in the statement were announced in 2009 by the Obama administration, following a rash of lawsuits over conditions in detention centers and reports of detainee deaths. 

You may see the Detention Watch report in its entirety here.