Lifting the Veil from the Immigrant Detention System

Broadview Detention Center - Photo: Carrie Sloan

Broadview Detention Center. (Photo: Carrie Sloan/flickr)

When undocumented immigrants are picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and rapidly placed in detention centers, most of them essentially become invisible and voiceless for weeks, if not months or years. It’s common for someone arrested in New York to be shipped to a detention center out of state, even as far as Texas, making it difficult for family members, friends, lawyers or advocates to visit them and learn about their story. What happens in these detention centers, and how people end up there, is  often difficult to investigate. ICE is tight-lipped, and the general public only learns about “shocking” conditions and “routine violations” in the detention system through news articles.

The Deportation Nation team is trying to change this. Their new crowdsourcing project, called The Story Line, is to ‘record these stories and post them on the web, adding detainee voices to a critical discussion about the use of local police to enforce federal immigration laws.’ By calling a toll-free number, (347) 903-5290, inmates can leave a message with their story. Deportation Nation will feature excerpts of calls and letters from participants on their website in an interactive map.

They’re asking lawyers and advocates to distribute their letter to inmates.

This is what they’ll be asking:

  • What is your name  (or you can remain anonymous) and where are you calling from? Is this where you were arrested?
  • Where are you originally from and when did you come to live in the United States?
  • What was your life like before you were arrested?
  • How were you first arrested by local police? What are the charges? Were they dropped? Did immigration agents ask police to put a “detainer” or “hold” on you to prevent your release?
  • Do you feel police stopped you because of your ethnicity or any other unfair reasons?
  • Were you transferred into federal immigration detention? If so, when? How long have you been detained because of your immigration status?
  • What impact has this had on your life?
  • Have you had access to legal assistance during your time in jail or detention? Please describe it.
  • Describe the conditions of your jail or detention center. Please include any information you want to share about your living space, clothing, food, health care, visitation, or treatment by staff.
  • What do you want the world to know about your situation.

The lack of transparency in the detention system is troubling for journalists, as well as advocates. In May, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) requested the following data for immigrants arrested since 2004:

  • The location of the person’s apprehension or arrest (city or state)
  • The person’s final detention facility
  • Location where the person was removed from the county
  • Nature of each previous criminal charge and its disposition
  • Whether the person is an “aggravated felon”
  • The nature of the formal removal charges
  • Marital status, children and kinship

ICE responded in September that certain details previously released were now “unavailable” and tacked on a $450,000 fee for TRAC to access available data.

Separate from the issue of whether or not undocumented immigrants should be forced to leave the U.S., as journalists we insist on greater transparency. We wish The Story Line the best of luck in getting these stories heard.

AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.