Our First Visit to an Immigration Detention Facility

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Anne Dutton is LIRS’s Advocacy Assistant. Kavita Puri is LIRS’s Advocacy Intern.

The Delaney Hall Detention Facility in Newark, New Jersey is an ominous large grey brick building located on a street filled with industrial plants. It houses immigrant detainees, asylum seekers and individuals awaiting their immigration removal proceedings before the Immigration Court.

This place felt different from other correctional facilities we have visited. Absent were the bright white and grey walls that color most penitentiaries. Detainees moved freely about their unit which includes bedrooms and day rooms. Counselors, instead of guards, roam the halls monitoring and interacting with the detainees while carrying out the positive reinforcement model of the center.

Although the staff has worked hard to create a community-based feel to the facility, it was impossible to forget that these immigrants have violated U.S. civil laws, not criminal laws, and should not be detained in the first place. We also found it hard to reconcile how the facility staff described how easy it was for immigrants to access legal counsel and presentations with the reports from the organizations that work with these detained immigrants on a daily basis.

We were fortunate to meet with three detainees and to hear their stories and perspectives on living a detained life. Three women, from Haiti, Guatemala, and Liberia, spoke to us about the violence and tumultuous events that made them flee their home countries to come to the United States, hoping for a life of freedom and opportunity.

The woman from Guatemala shared how dehumanizing it was to be detained.

The Haitian woman recounted the devastation after the earthquake in 2010 and how difficult it was to leave her young child while she sought a job to help support him back in Haiti.

The Liberian woman described how government officials asked her to check-in periodically with them. She followed all of their rules, but for no apparent reason during one of her regular check-ins, the government locked her up. Today marks one month that she has been detained.

While U.S. immigration detention policy has slightly improved in recent years, speaking to the detainees at the Delaney Hall Detention Facility was a clear reminder that this punishment does not fit the crime.

Stand with LIRS as we oppose harmful detention provisions and demand dignity for detained refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons.

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