Ever since President Trump came into office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has escalated its tactics. As more immigrants are taken into custody, stories of abuse make their way into the media. Now, a Vice News report reveals that a private prison company running ICE facilities faces horrific misconduct allegations, shining further light on the abuse of immigrants detained by ICE.
Out of the 51,000 migrants detained nationally, ICE says it's holding about 8,000 in Louisiana alone, The Associated Press reported. That's all due to contracts between the Department of Homeland Security and Ruston, Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections. The company currently runs six of the eight new immigrant detention facilities in Louisiana.
The allegations against LaSalle range from immigrants being fed moldy food to being subject to verbal abuse from guards and more. This month, a migrant held at Richwood Correctional Center died by suicide after being put into solitary confinement as punishment for taking part in a hunger strike.
The conditions immigrants face in ICE facilities amount to physical and psychological distress, Yuselys, a Cuban asylum-seeker whose partner is detained at LaSalle's Winn Correctional Center, told Vice News.
“All of the people who are detained there are suffering,” Yuselys said. “They’re anxious, they’re depressed, they lay in bed all day and don’t want to get up for anything because of how depressed they are.”
Yuselys's conclusions are further supported by new research from Freedom for Immigrants, an organization devoted to abolishing U.S. immigration detention. In its report, Freedom for Immigrants documented almost 2,000 cases of emotional distress "caused or exacerbated by the isolation inherent in the U.S. immigration detention system."
Abuse allegations have been collected against LaSalle since before it began working with DHS, some of which have gone to court. In June 2019, a former prison guard captain received a five-year sentence for "plotting to abuse inmates" at Richwood Correctional Center, where he pepper-sprayed two kneeling, handcuffed incarcerated people.
A LaSalle spokesperson told Vice News in a statement that the company is "deeply committed to delivering high-quality, culturally responsive services in safe and humane environments.” The spokesperson added that "all allegations are taken very seriously and in addition to our facilities internal review process, the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility investigate all allegations of abuse.”
However upsetting it is, though, it's important to remember that LaSalle is not extraordinary. It's one of many companies working with an agency in ICE that advocates say has an incentive to abuse human rights.
“The purpose of immigration detention is to indefinitely cage people in intolerable conditions and isolate them from their loved ones with the goal of forcing them to give up hope and stop fighting their cases," said Rebecca Merton, the director of visitation and independent monitoring at Freedom for Immigrants.
The Trump administration is making it even harder for immigrants to get out of detention facilities. It has increased the cost of bonds even for parents separated from their children at the border, according to PBS NewsHour. A recent lawsuit led by the Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union also says the administration uses Deep South prisons to keep asylum-seekers from winning parole.
In the past, politicians like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have likened ICE's detention facilities to concentration camps, citing the continued horrors going on inside. It may be tempting to focus on LaSalle alone, but the problem extends beyond single companies — and into the inner workings of ICE.