0616 migrant 05.JPG

7 reasons to end immigrant detention yesterday

News flash: Immigration detention centers have been awful and continue to be awful for everyone. But more and more organizations and activists are shedding light on just how horrible they are, and the very immediate need we have for alternatives to incarceration. 

Glancing through my news feed, here are a few reasons that immigrant detention needs to end:

1. They are not providing adequate mental health services for survivors of violence.

Many, if not most, of the Central American migrants being held in family detention centers are victims of violence, many of them women and girls who are survivors of sexual assault. These centers provide the most laughably mediocre access to mental health services while keeping these people in triggering environments. I wrote about it on Feministing:

“In one center, the majority of the on-site mental health professionals are men, at another the only services available are through video teleconference. Let me repeat that: Women who have left behind their families and home to make a life-threatening journey only to sit in a detention center where every minute of their lives is controlled by mostly men can only process these experiences by talking to some dude through a computer.”

2. Detention centers themselves are sites of violence.

In early October, detained women began reporting that they had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the detention center guards. The men allegedly solicited sexual favors from them, kissed or fondled them often in exchange for money or support with immigration proceedings. This is ten thousand kinds of sick and wrong, and organizations like UltraViolet are calling for an investigation from the Department of Homeland Security. Help them by signing here.

3. In order to “protect” LGBTQ people, detention centers often place them in solitary confinement for days. This is torture.

Living in close quarters with fellow detainees, trans and LGB-presenting people are at an added risk of transphobic or homophobic violence. Very few detention centers have any kind of solution to this problem, other than throwing LGBTQ detainees into solitary confinement, which Olga Tomchin of the Transgender Law Center describes as “psychological torture, especially when you have a history of trauma and have recently experienced trauma, being stuck in a tiny cage all by yourself is just further victimization.” Read more about this practice in Suzanna’s Feministing Five interview with Olga on the movement to free Marichuy Leal Gamino, a transgender woman who was held in a men’s detention facility.

4. These centers aren’t even feeding people adequately.

Just recently, a new report out from a Tucson-based immigrant rights organization shed light on human rights abuses being committed within short term detention centers. The report details the inhumane conditions that migrants went through in temporary detention centers near the Arizona border, including consistently being offered  inedible food and insufficient drinking water. Detainees reported being severely sleep deprived due to the cold and bright lights, which were left on 24 hours a day. Customs and Border Protection agents even regularly awakened detainees in the early morning hours to read them their legal options, when they would be least capable of comprehending them and making important decisions with regards to their status. This, added to indigenous and Spanish language barriers – which CBP made very little effort to accommodate – made it very difficult for detainees to navigate their rights while in detention.

5. People aren’t getting their due process.

Ever heard of the “rocket docket?” Volunteer immigration lawyers have begun using this term to describe the way Central American asylum seekers are being processed in the U.S. Human Rights Watch has published a report on the practice, detailing the ways in which refugees are frequently denied even a credible fear review, and are deported without any consideration.

6. Private prison corporations are profiting off of detention centers.

Who has a vested interest in maintaining these centers? Read through Grassroots Leadership’s report on how private prison corporations are making money off of human rights abuses. Or read about their shady business practices.

7. There are alternatives.

Read about them. They are a lot more humane, and they can average as cheap as $12/person per day, as opposed to the approximately $164/person per day it costs to detain someone.. Good for our taxes, bad for private prison corporations.

Here’s my question to our newly-elected lawmakers: How many reports detailing SERIOUS human rights abuses have to come out before we do something about immigration detention?


Juliana can never believe she’s living in the 21st century when she reads about the treatment of migrants in US detention centers.

Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

Read more about Juliana

Join the Conversation