Statement In Response To Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office’s ‘Investigation’

“We are very disappointed by the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office’s statement regarding their “investigation” into complaints of mistreatment by dozens of women detained at the West County Detention Facility.

It should be obvious that there is an inevitable conflict of interest when an office investigates itself. There can be no justice when allegations of abuse are declared to be unfounded by the very perpetrators.

The lack of transparency regarding the investigation is telling. A report, if one exists, has not been released. Even the most basic information, such as the identity or credentials of the investigators, or their methodology, has not been made public.

It is especially disturbing that fears of retaliation were clearly never addressed or even considered. Numerous women have told CIVIC volunteers that they were too afraid to share their concerns with the officials during the interviews. This is understandable, given the incidents of retaliation that they have experienced or witnessed already. For example, of the four named complainants in the first news article about the conditions, two women have since been deported and one has been transferred to another county jail away from her community support. Furthermore, women have told us that they are still experiencing devastating 23-hour periods of being locked in their cells, and are now facing increased verbal abuse from the deputies.

We continue to stand beside these brave women who have risked retaliation to bring these abuses to light, and we reiterate the demand for a fully independent and transparent investigation followed by ongoing public oversight.”

-Rebecca Merton, National Visitation Network Program Coordinator, CIVIC


CIVIC Presents Annual Rev. John Guttermann Legacy Award to New Jersey Visitation Programs

Liz Martinez, Director of Advocacy & Strategic Communications, CIVIC,
Sally Pillay, Program Director, First Friends of NJ & NY,
Frances Connell, Coordinator, Sojourners,
Jamila Hammami, Executive Director, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project,

NEW YORK – Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) presented the 2018 Reverend John Guttermann Legacy Award to three visitation programs for their longstanding contributions to the detention visitation and abolition movements: Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, Sojourners, and First Friends of New Jersey and New York.

CIVIC is the national visitation network working to abolish the U.S. immigration detention system. CIVIC established this award in honor of Reverend John Guttermann, who passed away in December 2016 after a valiant fight with brain cancer.  Rev. Guttermann was the founder of Conversations with Friends, a visitation program in Minnesota that was one of the first in the country, and a member of CIVIC’s founding Leadership Council.  

Each year, CIVIC awards the Reverend John Guttermann Legacy Award to one or more outstanding visitation programs.  The first Reverend John Guttermann Legacy Award was presented to Conversations with Friends in 2017.

First Friends of New Jersey and New York, Sojourners, and Queer Detainee Empowerment Project all offer visitation, post-release accompaniment, and other crucial forms of support to people held in ICE detention centers in the New Jersey area.  Over the years, their direct service as well as their activism have made powerful impacts on the experiences and lives of countless asylum seeking and immigrant individuals, as well as the policies of these facilities and localities.

“It has been such an immense pleasure to partner with these organizations over the years and witness how we have grown and learned from one another,” said Christina Fialho, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of CIVIC. “We are truly inspired by their work and leadership in the nationwide movement to support people in immigration detention and end the detention system. It is beautiful to see Rev. Guttermann’s legacy live on in the love, hope, and compassion that these visitation programs bring into some of the darkest systems of oppression in our country.”

First Friends of NJ and NY has been supporting immigrants detained in New Jersey since 1997 through visitation, pen-pals, advocacy, and post-release services.  They began visiting individuals at the Elizabeth Detention Center, and eventually expanded to meet the support and visitation needs of all the detention centers in New Jersey.  They hold events on Ash Wednesday, Columbus Day, and World Refugee Day to bring awareness to the isolation and trauma of detention.  In 2016, First Friends worked with CIVIC to file a civil rights complaint regarding substandard medical care on behalf of 61 individuals detained at the Hudson County Correctional Facility.  As a result, the County of Hudson appointed a committee of attorneys and doctors to investigate and created by local resolution the first medical oversight committee in the immigration detention system comprised of advocates.  In addition to continuing to put pressure on the County of Hudson, First Friends opened this year the Lighthouse, a safe haven for resettling asylees in partnership with the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Jersey City.

Sojourners was founded in 1999 as a social justice ministry project of the Riverside Church community.  Reverend David Fraccaro, a leader in the history of the detention visitation movement, was one of the first program coordinators, and Tom McCarthy, a Sojourners volunteer, directed the inspirational 2007 film The Visitor based on his experience.  Sojourners continues to recruit, train, and mentor volunteers to visit and befriend people at the Elizabeth Detention Center through meaningful one-on-one sustained relationships.  They arrange carpools, providing round-trip transportation from both uptown and midtown Manhattan.  Sojourners also assists in providing post-release orientation and services, such as finding housing in New York.

Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP), founded in 2014 by Jamila Hammami, assists people coming out of immigration detention in securing structural, health and wellness, educational, legal, and emotional support and services.  QDEP works to organize around the structural barriers and state violence that LGBTQIA TS & GNC detained and undocumented people face related to their immigration status, race, sexuality, and gender expression and identity.  They visit people at Elizabeth Detention Center and provide phone and pen pal support and connection to legal services at multiple facilities in New Jersey as well as New York, Louisiana, Arizona, and California.  QDEP raises money for transwomen in segregated housing units and solitary confinement to make commissary purchases to alleviate their isolation, and post bond so that they can be freed from these oppressive facilities.

Reps. Grijalva and Chu Call for Investigation on Sexual Assaults in ICE Facilities

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Grijalva released the following statement after he and Rep. Judy Chu led 71 Members of Congress in sending a letter to top Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials demanding increased accountability and transparency over claims of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment within immigrant detention facilities. The letter comes in response to a complaint filed by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) which highlights the prevalence of sexual misconduct and the lack of recourse for victims within immigrant detention facilities.  

In the letter, the lawmakers highlight the fact that, “The Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security received a total of 33,126 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse against DHS component agencies between January 2010 and July 2016, according to CIVIC’s complaint. Of the 33,126 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse, the DHS-OIG opened investigations into only 225 of them, or 0.07%.”

Full statements are below:

“DHS and its partner agencies must be held accountable for rampant complaints of sexual assault, abuse and harassment within their immigrant detention facilities,” Rep Grijalva said. “Many of those being held have fled violence, have been victims of rape, or were otherwise subject to traumatic events. For DHS to carelessly dismiss, ignore, or even try to erase such serious claims is not only unconscionable but also unlawful under existing PREA protections. We have both a moral and legal obligation to prevent sexual misconduct from happening in detention centers, and further must ensure that victims have a path to legal recourse when incidents do occur.”

“Even more alarming are efforts undertaken to destroy records related to sexual assault in immigrant detention centers. If this were any other federal agency, there would be an outpouring of public demands for greater transparency and accountability. However, because we are dealing with victims who are always in the shadows, far away from their families and outside of the public eye, we are seeing a coordinated attempt to eliminate any evidence of wrongdoing. I strongly urge DHS and DOJ leadership to act swiftly to conduct comprehensive investigations of sexual assault in immigrant detention facilities, and for ICE to withdraw its petition to permanently destroy all records pertaining to sexual assault claims.” 

“Immigrants are among the most vulnerable people – many of whom are children away from their families,” said Rep. Chu. “And being detained puts them completely at the mercy of others, who sometimes abuse that power in unscrupulous ways as we have too often seen over the years. That anybody should experience sexual assault, but especially anybody in these terrible conditions, is absolutely unacceptable. There are already myriad problems with immigrant detention facilities and the entire policy of treating immigrants as prisoners, but the threat of sexual assault should not be among it. We need an investigation, more oversight, and reform to ensure that we are protecting those in our care.”

“Homeland Security has established a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault, but this policy is not properly enforced,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). “In fact, to our knowledge, nothing has been done to curb sexual abuse at ICE facilities since we filed our civil rights complaint in April. Instead, ICE has petitioned the National Archives to trash its records of sexual assault. Through its attempt to destroy evidence of wrongdoing, ICE is sending a message that perpetrators of sexual abuse of immigrants will be protected. We cannot allow ICE to operate with impunity behind closed doors.”

Full text of the letter can be found here.

New Government Report Finds Widespread Abuse At Immigrant Detention Centers Across The Country

Washington, DC — A new report released today by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), Concerns about ICE Detainee Treatment and Care at Detention Facilities, supports longstanding concerns and documentation from immigrant rights advocates about egregious conditions, abusive treatment and abysmal mismanagement at immigrant detention centers across the country. The report comes as Trump calls for a massive cut in the OIG budget in an attempt to further embolden Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to act with impunity, erase measures of accountability and obscure any existing transparency.

The report inspected and found serious deficiencies at the following facilities: Santa Ana City Jail in California, Hudson Detention Center in New Jersey, Stewart Detention Center in Georgia and Otero Detention Center in New Mexico.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Medical staff not using available interpretation services during medical exams at multiple facilities (not specified) jeopardizing the health of detained individuals who aren’t not able to provide their medical history or fully explain their symptoms or concerns without interpretation. Inspectors also uncovered concerning delays in medical care at Stewart, Santa Ana and Hudson.
  • Serious problems with the grievance procedure. At multiple facilities (not specified), detained individuals reported that “staff obstructed or delayed their grievances or intimidated them, through fear of retaliation, into not complaining.” At Stewart, review of a sample of grievances found that “[m]any serious complaints from the sample at this facility included only cursory and uninformative explanations of the resolution.”
  • Lack phone access as required. At Otero, inspectors found broken phones. At Stewart, the OIG complaint hotline was improperly restricted.  
  • Abusive and disrespectful treatment. Detained people at all four facilities reported improper and disrespectful treatment. At Santa Ana, video corroborated allegations that a guard yelled at and inappropriately threatened detained people.
  • Abusive use of solitary confinement was documented at Stewart, Santa Ana and Otero.
  • Improper strip searches at the Santa Ana Jail.

“The realities documented by the OIG inspectors, and many more, are endemic to the entire detention system,” said Mary Small, policy director at Detention Watch Network. “The findings of the report support our ongoing call to immediately release people from detention, as ICE has proven time and time again to be incapable of meeting basic standards for humane treatment. Furthermore, the report is particularly timely as Congress continues to stall budget decisions for fiscal year 2018,” Small added. “Our elected officials must stand with immigrant communities. It’s time to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on the abusive and deadly immigration enforcement system; the lives of our loved ones and our collective future are at stake.”

Immigrant rights advocates working on the inspected facilities offered the following statements:

Azadeh Shahshahani, Project South: “As our year-long documentation showed, Stewart is rife with abuse and should have shut down long ago. Some examples of human rights violations include: exploitation of immigrant labor for operation of the facility, reports of maggots being found in the food, and responding to hunger strikes with threats of force-feeding. The May 2017 death of 27-year-old Jean-Carlos Jimenez-Joseph who was held in solitary for 19 days should have served as a final wake-up call and resulted in the immediate closure of the facility. We hope that the Georgia Congressional delegation will take action on the letter signed by 70 Georgia and national organizations and investigate this facility.”

Christina Fialho, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC): “Although the Santa Ana City Jail is no longer a contracted immigrant jail, it still holds hundreds of human beings inside deplorable conditions where people are subjected to strip searches that often occur under unsanitary conditions and sometimes in full view of other people. The City of Santa Ana has an obligation to its residents to close this jail and begin to heal its community,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/executive director of CIVIC, which filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Santa Ana City Jail about unlawful strip searches nearly two years ago. Fialho added, “We have filed countless complaints against ICE over the years regarding inadequate medical care at Hudson, a pattern or practice of sexual violence throughout the system, physical abuse at various immigration prisons, and more. But rather than addressing our concerns, ICE has adopted a head-in-the-sand approach, denying that any problems exist. The OIG report is only the tip of the iceberg; imagine the widespread abuse we would find if all 210 immigrant prisons were reviewed. A starting point in tackling this culture of impunity is greater transparency from our government institutions.

Marcela Hernandez, Organizer, Immigrant Youth Coalition: “In our weekly visits to Santa Ana Jail’s trans pod, we documented multiple abuses such as the women being kept in their cells for more than 20 hours a day and violent verbal, emotional and physical abuse. There was also a huge lack of adequate medical attention to the point that one of the women collapsed, was taken to the local hospital and was in a coma for weeks. She wasn’t allowed to finish her rehabilitation and was taken back to Santa Ana Jail where her health continue to deteriorate instead of getting better. For these reasons we continue to support the fight against trans detention and all immigrant detentions.”

Lourdes Ortiz, Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee (DMSC): “Through testimonies and group activities, DMSC knows that the conditions at the Otero Processing Center interfere with people’s access to justice and break their spirit. This year, the Otero Processing Center was sending detained women to the County jail part of the facility. Ironically, women reported better conditions at the jail than at the immigration detention center. Attorneys struggle to have access to their clients; there are no contact visits, and attorneys have had to wait for up to three hours before being allowed to see their client. This report is just the tip of the iceberg. We hope that other organizations, public officials, and the community will join us in demanding an investigation and holding ICE accountable.”

Sally Pillay, First Friends of New Jersey and New York: “The OIG’s report clearly highlights the neglect and abuse that immigrants face on a constant  basis. Hudson County Jail and Rehabilitation Center (Hudson) is known for its substandard  medical care — This year alone there have been two deaths at the facility, one of which was Rolando Meza Espinoza who was in need of medical attention. The unacceptable and avoidable death of Espinoza is representative of the substandard medical care and oversight provided to individuals detained in Hudson.  It is not acceptable that taxpayers dollars are used to incarcerate our immigrant brothers and sisters, while these facilities are plagued by abuse, mistreatment and a lack of accountability. We are calling on Hudson County to adopt the most recent Performance Based National Detention Standards and to work with local advocates to form a truly Independent Medical Oversight Board that to monitor the facility.”  

Serges Demefack, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Program in New Jersey: “The AFSC Immigrant Rights Program in New Jersey commends the OIG for its report which points out to some of the conditions immigrant rights advocates in New Jersey have consistently asked for improvement. Recently the circumstances leading to two deaths in June and July 2017 at HCCF tell a story of the system designed to fail immigrants. A system where medical care is withheld and sick calls go unanswered for weeks at a time. Detainees at HCCF are consistently mistreated, and in many cases accused of faking their illness even though there are evidences backed by testimonies from other detainees demonstrating that they are chronically ill.  The financial incentive tied to the detention quota is one of the root causes of the broken immigration detention system in Hudson County and elsewhere. We need to hold the failing medical and mental health systems at HCCF accountable.  This includes the administrator and those elected officials who repeatedly support inefficient and often unjust jail management. We must begin eliminating a system that is completely lacking accountability.”

Dylan Corbett, Hope Border Institute: “While we welcome this step towards holding ICE accountable by the Office of the Inspector General, the abuses identified at the Otero Detention Center immigration are not an anomaly. We know that immigration agencies and officials in border communities routinely fail to respect basic human rights and human dignity. The detention of migrants and asylum seekers who pose no threat to our communities is fundamentally immoral and together we must work to end it.”


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit Follow @DetentionWatch.

Project South is a Southern-based leadership development organization that creates spaces for movement building. We work with communities pushed forward by the struggle– to strengthen leadership and to provide popular political and economic education for personal and social transformation. We build relationships with organizations and networks across the US and global South to inform our local work and to engage in bottom-up movement building for social and economic justice.

Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee (DMSC) is a community group in El Paso, TX that opposes migrant detention. They fight for cross-border communities free from militarization, criminalization, and mass incarceration through organizing, education, and action. They aim to expose the injustices of migrant detention and deportation and to provide support for migrants in detention and their families. Follow @DMSCelpaso (Twitter) and @DetainedMigrantSolidarityCommitteeEPTX (Facebook).

Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) is a national nonprofit devoted to abolishing U.S. immigration detention, while ending the isolation of people currently suffering in this profit-driven system. We visit and monitor 43 facilities and run the largest national hotline for detained immigrants. Through these windows into the system, we gather data and stories to combat injustice at the individual level and push systemic change. Visit Follow @endisolation and join us at

Hope Border Institute (HOPE) is an independent grassroots community organization working in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez-Las Cruces region, that seeks to bring the perspective of Catholic social teaching to bear on the social realities unique to our region. Through a robust program of research, reflection, leadership development, advocacy and action, HOPE develops and aligns the border’s community leaders engaged in the work of justice from across the Mexico-US border to deepen solidarity across borders and transform our region.  Visit us at or follow Hope on Twitter and Facebook, @hopeborder, or @hopeborderinstitute on Instagram.