In the past four months, two separate organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union and local immigrant rights group No More Deaths, published reports criticizing Customs and Border Patrol for its mistreatment of detained individuals. In particular, these reports argue that the conditions of Arizona facilities in which suspected undocumented immigrants are processed and held are cruel and inhumane.
The report by No More Deaths, issued last week, argues that the conditions of CBP holding facilities are extremely cramped. Food and water is not readily available to detainees, nor is necessary medical care. Of the 12,895 individuals No More Deaths interviewed, 5,763 reported overcrowding, 3,107 reported unsanitary conditions, and 5,207 complained of experiencing either extreme heat or cold. In addition, the organization also notes that officers in these facilities frequently subject the detainees to physical and psychological abuse. The ACLU made similar observations in its own research into deficient CBP detention facilities.
The two major immigrant processing and detention facilities in Arizona, one in Eloy and one in Florence, both located in Pinal County, are privately owned and operated facilities, administered by the Corrections Corporation of America. And this is not the first time the CCA has faced criticism for its management of reform facilities. CCA has been publicly lambasted and faced several lawsuits for purposefully putting inmates in harms way, for letting inmates die in custody due to poor health care, and for allowing guards to physically abuse detainees. In 2009, CCA settled out of court when an undocumented immigrant was killed while being transported to the Florence facility. In addition, the Eloy facility has experienced the highest number of migrant deaths, nine since 2003, of any holding facility in the country.
Still, despite the documented instances of abuse and the inhumane conditions at CCA-run facilities, there are many in Arizona who continue to support the privatization of criminal and immigrant detention. Money Magazine recently touted Pinal County as the number one place in the country for job growth. This is largely due to the many jobs brought to the area by this company. Regardless of how dangerous these facilities are to the inmates detained there, there is no doubt that they are at least in some ways good for the communities that call them home.
In their recommendations regarding the issue of detainee mistreatment in Arizona, No More Deaths concludes that it is vital that there exist some independent, external, non-govermental oversight of the facilities in which suspected undocumented immigrants are kept and of the staff who operate them. Only such oversight, combined with a system of enforceable sanctions for failing to comply with overseer pronouncements, will serve to make these facilities safer for the individuals detained there.