By Tsion Gurmu, Legal Manager and Staff Attorney at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and Emily Creighton, Legal Director of Transparency

The public watched in horror this September as U.S. Border Patrol agents on horses chased down Haitians and other Black migrants who were coming to the United States to seek protection. Despite outcry from civil rights organizations and people around the world, the Biden administration continued to violently expel thousands of Black migrants. 

What remains hidden from the public eye is the ongoing abusive and humiliating treatment of Black immigrants within the U.S. immigration detention system. A recent suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeks to expose the treatment of these detained Black immigrants.

The FOIA requests outline the extensive mistreatment of Black immigrants in eight immigration detention facilities in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The complaint  describes disturbing instances of abuse in the context of systemic anti-Black racism in the detention system. Black immigrants report that they are subject to overtly racist statements and attacks by guards in facilities and are explicitly targeted because of their race. 

The complaint cites reports of Black immigrants being threatened with pepper spray, beaten, and forced into restraint devices and confinement. 

At Pine Prairie Detention Facility, a group of 45 Black, majority Cameroonian, asylum seekers organized hunger strikes to protest the prolonged detention of African men. Guards climbed on top of several of them, attempting to force them into chokeholds. All 45 men were rounded up by officials in full military gear and taken to the solitary confinement units. At another facility, the West Texas Detention Facility, detained Black immigrants reported unprovoked physical violence, including indiscriminate deployment of pepper spray and use of solitary confinement or segregation.

Another area of abuse involves the use of physical force to compel individuals to agree to deportation. Among the facilities targeted by the FOIA, this was documented at Winn Correctional Center and Adams County Correctional Center. At Winn Correctional Center, Cameroonian asylum seekers reported being assaulted, choked, and beaten while guards physically manipulated their hands into providing their fingerprints to ‘consent’ to deportation.

At yet another facility subject to the FOIA investigation, the T. Don Hutto facility, a group of more than 40 Cameroonian asylum-seeking women reported serious medical neglect, including the refusal to provide critical surgeries and medical treatment.

Overall, the complaint highlights how Black immigrants are disproportionately subject to solitary confinement. One study found that from 2012 to 2017, detained individuals from predominantly Black countries—who made up less than 4% of people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody—comprised more than 24% of all people in solitary confinement.

In another FOIA lawsuit filed in October, civil rights groups demanded agency records related to the wrongful deportation of Cameroonian immigrants. The groups brought the suit approximately one year after Cameroonian and other asylum seekers were deported after filing civil rights complaints highlighting violent and coercive tactics used to force them to sign their own deportation orders

A more recent complaint also documents the brutality faced by Black immigrants in ICE custody where they are placed in restraint devices and suffer agonizing pain. 

The need for transparency regarding the treatment of Black immigrants in detention is acute. Only by revealing information about how Black immigrants have been treated in ICE detention centers can we begin to address the insidious reach of systemic racism in the U.S. immigration system and the traumatic effects on those impacted.  

What is most shocking about the abusive and unlawful treatment of Black immigrants in detention is that it is commonplace and remains largely unspoken. Our goal in highlighting these cruel and inhumane practices is to hold the U.S. government accountable. 

ICE must provide full and complete responses to pending FOIA requests regarding the treatment of Black immigrants. Transparency is the first step to revealing what happens inside detention centers and achieving public accountability and meaningful change.