The United States immigration system is rife with racism and violence against Black migrants

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The United States immigration system is rife with racism and violence against Black migrants, according to a new research report.

The report, titled “Uncovering the Truth: New Report Confirms Disproportionate Abuse and Violence Against Black Migrants in Immigration Detention,” was released by immigrant and Black-led organizations. It describes the conclusions of a six-year study that examined over 17,000 phone records from the National Immigration Detention Hotline.

1. The data exposes a disturbing trend of mistreatment against Black migrants by ICE, private detention contractors, and contracting jail authorities. Among the key findings are:

2. Black migrants account for 28% of all abuse-related reports submitted to the hotline, despite only making up 6% of the entire ICE detention population.

3. some detention facilities in Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana, Black migrants are nearly twice as likely as non-Black migrants to encounter abuse.

4. Black non-binary migrants are 3.5 times more likely to experience abuse in immigration detention.

5. A new FOIA request confirmed a prior study that indicated that 24 percent of all prisoners in solitary confinement are Black; and more than 53 percent of the most high-intensity and life-threatening cases that FFI acted on were on behalf of Black migrants over a six-year period.

Moussa Haba, an author of the study and a monitoring fellow with Freedom for Immigrants who was previously held by ICE, says that no one should have to live in terror or endure such punishment, especially not because of the color of their skin or where they were born. He goes on to say that The United States claims to be the land of the free, but in order for this to be true, Black migrants like him must live in freedom, not behind bars. Detention was the opposite of freedom for him. During this time, he experienced significant trauma. In detention, he was subjected to unending racism, and our new report shows that he is not alone. It is apparent that detention must cease in order to break the cycle of abuse—and our struggle to eliminate detention is truly a fight for freedom.

It is not surprising that Black migrants in detention describe their conditions as torture, given that detention is torture. The reports demonstrate unequivocally that the United States immigration system is anti-Black. Detention is one of the country’s ongoing legacies of slavery and Jim Crow laws. Collecting race and ethnicity statistics is crucial, as it puts the issue into perspective and highlights the number of Black persons jailed by the US government, narrates Ronald Claude, policy, and advocacy director for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI).

The mass incarceration system in the United States is built on the backs of Black people who were previously enslaved, according to Haddy Gassama, policy and advocacy director of UndocuBlack Network. Gassama said that white supremacist sentiments and anti-Blackness are not only prevalent in today’s policing and immigration enforcement systems, but were also the driving forces behind the establishment of these brutal institutions. The United States has the world’s largest prison system, and Black people bear the brunt of its cruelty, according to the report. Gassama concluded that immigration is a Black issue, and as long as detention practices exist, Black migrants will suffer anti-Blackness within a system designed to specifically denigrate and segregate them.

“Detention is abusive, harmful and foremost anti-Black,” said Zack Mohamed, the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project’s deportation defense coordinator (BLMP). “We must end this practice because it violates migrants’ dignity and humanity. Zack further describes the report not only identifies the injustices and abuses, but it also makes recommendations, urging the Biden administration and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to use their authority to abolish detention.

Anti-Black racism and violence, according to Amanda Daz, national helpline manager for Freedom for Immigrants, is a systemic, defining feature of immigrant detention. Immigration detention, described as rooted in white supremacy and an extension of the racist mass incarceration system, serves as yet another institution created to oppress and criminalize Black people in the United States. Amanda describes their findings as confirming what Black detention advocates have been saying for years: detained Black migrants face anti-Black racism, significantly higher levels of abuse, and discriminatory outcomes. Claiming that the Biden administration has virtually endorsed this abuse by relying on incarceration and other deterrence strategies and emphasizing the need to end the dehumanization of Black migrants, as well as the incarceration system that perpetuates anti-Black violence. It is past time to welcome Black refugees with human dignity rather than cages.

The findings of the study contribute to a growing body of evidence of anti-Black racism in immigration detention, which has already been documented in past reports, civil rights complaints, and letters to DHS published or submitted by Black-led groups and other immigrants rights groups. Internal organization and lobbying efforts by incarcerated Black migrants were crucial in establishing this pattern of racism and differential treatment.

In 2021, Black inmates at Miami’s Krome North Service Processing Center filed a human rights complaint alleging sexual abuse, retribution, and other oppressive conditions. Last year, medically vulnerable detainees at Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center filed a civil rights complaint.

The paper concludes that we must stop considering Black migrants’ demands for redress and accountability as isolated events, and instead identify them as indicators of systematic harm. And that The Department of Homeland Security is able to disguise the anti-Black violence and abuse performed against immigrants by not collecting race and ethnicity statistics, as other government and law enforcement agencies do.

To address the systemic abuse of Black migrants, the groups advocate for the abolition of immigration detention. Advocates also urge the Biden administration, among other administrative, legislative, humanitarian, and state-level strategies, to publicly recognize and condemn the rampant abuse of Black migrants and to use its discretion to release Black migrants so that they can resolve their immigration proceedings from the safety of their families and communities. 

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