Individuals detained at an immigration prison in Henderson, Nevada are regularly subjected to conditions that violate ICE’s own standards or coerced into signing legal documents that adversely affect their cases, a report produced by the immigration clinic at the University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Law claims. UNLV Immigration Clinic, The Conditions of Immigration Detention in Nevada: A Report on the Henderson Detention Center (November 19, 2013). The report is based on interviews with detainees conducted by students in the immigration clinic.
The Henderson Detention Center (HDC) is a unit of the Henderson police department that contracts with ICE, the U.S. Marshals Service, and other entities to provide detention services. ICE has access to 300 beds within the HDC; on average it used 254 of those beds during the 2013 fiscal year. Conditions of Immigration Detention in Nevada at 3.
The student investigators reported on detainees’ access to the facility’s law library, counsel, pro bono services, student attorneys, telephones, mail, and medical care. The report also addressed claims that detainees are sometimes coerced into signing legal documents and have experienced verbal or physical abuse by staff.
According to the report, only nine of twenty-nine individuals interviewed were represented by counsel in their removal cases. Conditions of Immigration Detention in Nevada at 5-6. Some detainees also said that their legal mail was opened, presumably by prison staff. Conditions of Immigration Detention in Nevada at 6. One detainee claimed that an HDC officer “tried to coerce him to sign a document; that detainee also faced retaliation for his refusal to sign.” Conditions of Immigration Detention in Nevada at 6.
Interestingly, the report notes that its attempts to conduct follow-up interviews with detainees were thwarted by HDC officials after the students provided HDC with a draft copy of this report. Conditions of Immigration Detention in Nevada at 4. Less than two days after receiving the draft, HDC officials allegedly informed student attorneys that the facility had changed its policy on allowing student attorneys to speak with detainees: instead of allowing students to meet with any detainee who wanted to speak with them, HDC suddenly imposed more stringent demands: “Under the new policy, student attorneys need a letter from their supervising attorney listing the names of the detainees that they want to interview. In addition, the student attorneys must present G-28 forms (attorney representation forms) signed by each detainee that they wished to meet.” Conditions of Immigration Detention in Nevada at 24-25. The report added that this practice “directly conflicts with ICE’s NDS, which specifically states that attorney representation forms are not required for prerepresentation meetings or meetings not related to immigration, such as meetings about the conditions of detention.” Conditions of Immigration Detention in Nevada at 25.
Students at the University of Miami’s immigration law clinic reported a similar experience with the Glades County Jail in Moorehaven, Florida. According to a press release, “The [Glades County Jail] has imposed obstacles to law students visiting with their clients in order to prepare for court.” Students have planned a news conference for today (Thursday, November 21, at 11:00 am EST) to discuss their concerns about access to detainees at the Glade County Jail as well as other concerns about detention conditions there.
These reports suggest to me that prison officials at these facilities are attempting to shield their activities from public view. This is particularly distressing given that we’re quite sure that much has and does go awry inside immigration prisons–the most recent of which involves failures to track and address allegations of sexual abuse, according to a report of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Sadly, attempts to obscure the goings-on of prisons are not unheard of and contribute to a characteristic of prisons that Justice William Brennan’s poignant described a quarter-century ago: “Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness.” O’lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354 (1987) (Brennan, J., dissenting).
A secured facility should not become a black hole. On the contrary, the public’s access to information about conditions inside HDC or any other prison is critical to ensuring that legal and moral standards of conduct are being met. It is incumbent upon ICE to do all it can to promote transparency in the immigration detention estate including at facilities owned or operated by third parties.