Report: Abuse reports by Black immigrants detainees are high

After analyzing recordings of nearly 17,000 calls from its national immigration detention hotline between 2016 and 2021, Freedom for Immigrants released a report on Wednesday that it and other stakeholders say indicates a pattern of racism and abuse towards black migrants.

Among the report’s findings, the groups concluded that 28% of the 2,200 reports of inmate abuse came from predominantly black countries, despite making up 6% of the incarcerated population in 2019, according to their analysis of the latest country-of-origin population data from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, an impartial data research organization at Syracuse University. Freedom for Immigrants and the other groups behind the report, including the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the UndocuBlack Network, are working to end immigrant detention.

According to the study’s methodology, the analysis assumes that prisoners calling from black-majority countries are black. The authors filtered call recordings for phrases indicative of verbal or physical abuse, such as “medical neglect,” “assault,” and “n-word.”

Alexxis Pons Abascal, a spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement to The Times that the agency is committed to ensuring all detainees are safe and subject to appropriate detention conditions. He said ICE encourages people to report allegations of wrongdoing.

“Staff are held to the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct, and when a complaint is received it is thoroughly investigated to determine its accuracy and to ensure that comprehensive standards that ICE is required to follow are strictly adhered to and enforced,” said Pons Abascal wrote.

Black migrants are more likely to be placed in solitary confinement than non-black migrants, according to the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. At some Southern facilities, including the Etowah County Jail in Alabama, the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia and the Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana, blacks were almost twice as likely to report experiences of abuse as inmates of other races, the groups’ report said.

In May, Marlissa Joseph, a 22-year-old inmate at the Baker County Detention Center in Florida, said she was in line for the commissioner when a warden used a racial slur and lunged at her.

Joseph, who was born in the Bahamas and is black, told the Times she had complained to other staff at the facility weeks before the incident about the guard’s treatment of inmates. Joseph said the message got back to the guard, who confronted them in the commissary line. She said the guard tried to run toward her but was held back by other staff.

Joseph said their motions for indictment were denied. She was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in July 2021 after serving a prison sentence for robbery with a firearm and is appealing her deportation order. She said she was concerned for her safety if she was released.

“It’s really psychologically abusive,” she said. “I’m not used to people yelling at me. If you complain, they say, ‘If you don’t like it, go back to your country.’ ”

The Baker County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment from The Times.

The report’s authors said the true proportion of black migrant hotline calls is likely undercounted and that more data is needed on the treatment of blacks in detention. Freedom for Immigrants only began collecting racial demographics from hotline callers last year, and ICE only records the country of origin of detainees.

Pons Abascal, the ICE spokesman, did not respond to a question about why the agency doesn’t collect racial demographics.

“We must stop treating black migrants’ cries for redress and accountability as isolated incidents and instead recognize them as indicators of the systemic damage taking place,” the report said. By not collecting data on race and ethnicity, as is the practice with other government and law enforcement agencies, the Department of Homeland Security is “able to cover up anti-Black violence and abuse of immigrants.”

The Freedom for Immigrants national hotline receives an average of 250 calls per week. Staff screen calls twice a week and select the most serious cases of abuse for lawyers and attorneys to intervene. Over the two years that ended in August, half of the cases the organization filed complaints about were on behalf of black inmates.

In 2019, ICE shut down the hotline shortly after it was featured on the show Orange Is the New Black. Freedom for Immigrants sued, arguing the termination was an act of retaliation and a violation of freedom of expression. Months later, a judge ordered the federal government to restore the hotline.

Toll-free numbers for pro bono attorneys and organizations must be approved by the detention facility telephone service provider as direct dial numbers, as such numbers are not accessible to inmates within the facility. Detainees can also report grievances to an internal DHS hotline or to the Office of the Inspector General, but 911 is unavailable and they must pay for calls to other numbers.

Unlike criminal inmates, immigrant detainees are not entitled to free legal aid or phone calls.

Advocates have spoken out about injustices against black migrants for years. Last year, pictures from the Del Rio, Texas border showed Haitian migrants being chased with whips by border guards on horseback. The year before, Cameroonians detained in Louisiana and Mississippi said they were threatened, beaten and forced to sign deportation documents.

In 2021, black inmates filed a civil rights lawsuit about sexual assault, retaliation and other abusive conditions at the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami. Medically vulnerable prisoners at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia also filed a civil rights lawsuit last year.

Haddy Gassama, director of policy and advocacy at UndocuBlack Network, which is among the black-led immigrant rights groups that worked on the report, said it’s important to give historical context and the links between mass incarceration and immigrant detention recognize.

“It makes sense that black migrants would feel the heaviest brunt of the immigrant detention system in a similar way that African Americans in this country would disproportionately feel the heaviest brunt of its criminal justice system,” she said. “Black migrants face this double punishment.” Report: Abuse reports by Black immigrants detainees are high

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