The Trump Administration is busy expanding the nation’s immigration prison archipelago. An internal DHS document reports that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has already boosted its capacity by 1,100 beds available nightly. It is has identified an additional 21,000 beds that it could potentially tap. As I wrote last week, the Detention Watch Network has confirmed that ICE has secured agreements for over 2,000 beds in recent months and is currently negotiating for access to an additional 1,500 beds. Even before this increase, ICE already operated an enormous prison estate. For years it has kept at least 34,000 beds at its disposal.
Despite claims by the Supreme Court and ICE officials that ICE confinement is not punitive, detention under ICE’s control often brings horrific consequences. Access to medical care is lamentable. Children are traumatized. Sexual abuse remains a problem. And people die. From 2004 to 2014, at least 144 people died in ICE’s custody.
According to an analysis of ICE death reports, over thirteen percent of these deaths resulted from suicide. Another seventy-four percent resulted from an identifiable medical problem. The reports authors note that deaths declined over the ten-year period analyzed, but they could not identify a single cause. Perhaps fewer people died because ICE improved the medical care it provides or perhaps shifts in enforcement practices simply shifted deaths away from ICE and toward other governmental units like the Border Patrol, state prisons, or county jails.
Recent reports about ICE deaths suggest there is reason to remain vigilant for an uptick. Earlier this spring, two people died in a single ICE contracted facility within a three-week period. At least six people have died in ICE custody since October 1, 2016.