Bingo Night for Detained Illegal ImmigrantsJuly 15, 2010 - 4:49 PM | by: Jamie Colby
Last August, the Obama administration pledged to overhaul how those entering the U.S. illegally would be held and treated at detention centers across the country. Many who enter illegally but have not committed other crimes, are housed at Level 1 facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE while those here illegally who have committed crimes are at more secure ICE detention centers classified as Level 2 or 3.
According to ICE, sometimes facilities provide housing for both but these populations are never mixed. The non-criminal, lower risk detainees could soon see the biggest changes in living conditions– 28 changes proposed in total – while even those at more secure detention facilities could see some, like improved access to legal libraries and other changes that will not however, according to ICE, put the public at risk.
News of the proposed changes came when The Houston Chronicle published a leaked, internal email from Corrections Corporation of America or CCA, a private contractor working for ICE. Check out the email below that lists the changes proposed. ICE confirms to Fox these are the improvements proposed by CCA that it is now considering.
The ACLU and other immigrant activist groups say upgrading conditions for detainees is a start, but most working on behalf of illegal immigrants want more sweeping reform. ACLU staff attorney Vanita Gupta tells Fox “some of them actually will make a difference in the living conditions of detainees, who I have to remind everyone, are not criminals.”
But Chris Crane the president of AFGE 118 Council, the union representing ICE officers says “we have to take every precaution possible to make sure that they are safe and that our employees and officers inside these facilities are safe”. Again, ICE tells Fox it hasn’t decided yet which of the CCA proposals will be approved and any that are, ICE insists will not put the public at risk. How about the cost of making these upgrades to detention? CCA picks up the cost, not taxpayers.
My producer Kathleen Foster and I were granted access to a Level 1 ICE facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey to observe both current conditions and some of the changes that are being tried out there. The healthcare provided was extensive, special meals are already available for those with dietary or religious needs, there’s a hair salon for the female detainees, a library including law books and access to lexis nexis legal cases as well as fitness and movie nights.
The ICE administrator that took us on our tour explained in his experience keeping detainees calm and healthy reduces the risk of disturbances. Take a look at what we observed and tell us what you think.
Sent: Thursday, May 27, 2010 2:38 PM
Subject: Immeidate Attention – New ICE Requirements
Below, please find a list of facility modifications which we will
discuss at our upcoming meeting at 2:45 pm.
In addition [to the policy reforms], CCA will provide the following
no-cost improvements at each of those nine facilities. [Elizabeth;
Eloy; Florence; Houston; Laredo; Hall County; San Diego; Stewart; Hutto]
* Allow visitors to come for as long as they like during a 12-hour
period each day and on weekends.
* Increase availability of legal supplies and postage to indigent
detainees for legal correspondence.
* Add research resources at the law libraries.
* Play the “Know Your Rights” legal orientation video in each
housing unit every day (not in lieu of in person legal programs but in
addition to them).
* Increase contact visitation space for legal counsel.
* Design and provide an area at each facility for contact
* Allow free movement within the institution for detainees of
appropriate classification levels.
* Allow detainees of appropriate classification levels to wear
their own clothing, within reasonable limitation, and providing
non-penal clothing for detainees to wear.
* Eliminate lock downs and lights out for appropriate
* Reduce the frequency of and, as reasonable, wholly eliminate pat
* Provide more normalized common areas.
* Soften the look for the facility with hanging plants, flower
baskets, new paint colors, different bedding and furniture, wall
graphics and framed pictures on the walls, and enhance the aesthetics of
the living areas.
* Expand programming for detainees to include movie nights, bingo,
arts and crafts, dance, walk and exercise classes, health and welfare
classes, basic cooking classes, tutoring and self-paced computer
training on portable computer stations.
* Provide celebrations of special occasions and allowing a
detainee to receive outside, packaged food for celebrations and while
visiting with family and friends.
* Increase the number of phones and unmonitored lines for attorney
* Design new menus with greater variety and reduce repetition of
* Offer continental breakfasts that are completely self serve on
holidays and weekends.
* Provide fresh carrot sticks and celery or other vegetables in a
* Provide self-serve beverage bars.
* Offer water and tea in the housing areas at all times.
* Provide a unit manger so detainees have someone available to
talk to and to solve problems in the facility other than the immediate
* Increase training unique to each facility so staff are aware of
the nature and needs of the population of each facility.
* Survey community-based immigration advocacy groups and
immigration attorneys for suggestions that may improve communication and
ease of access.
* Designate an employee at each facility for consular access
issues to improve consular access.
* Ensure third party legal education programs are made available
at all ICE sites.
* Provide four hours or more hours of recreation in a natural
setting, allowing for robust aerobic exercise.
* Provide email access for detainees, as is currently provided at
* Provide internet-based free phone service.