In recent years, numerous news reports have highlighted illegal or inhumane actions committed by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in their attempts to expel illegal immigrants. Despite the severity and frequency of these abuses, any official records documenting them may soon be destroyed. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ICE officers in the past year have been given provisional approval by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to destroy thousands of records that document unlawful ICE actions.
As Kali Holloway reported for AlterNet, these records include information on illegal detainment of immigrants, inhumane holding conditions, sexual abuses by officers, and wrongful deaths while in ICE custody. As Victoria López of the ACLU wrote, “ICE proposed various timelines for the destruction of these records ranging from 20 years for sexual assault and death records to three years for reports about solitary confinement.” Although murder does not have a statute of limitations, apparently documentation of it can, as long as the crime was committed while the victim was in ICE custody.
In detention centers from California and Texas to Alabama and Georgia, detainees systematically endure complete isolation with no provision of time outdoors and little to no communication with family. In January 2018, for example, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the case of 27 women in a Richmond, California, jail who wrote a collective letter detailing continual abuses they face due to their immigration status. The women reported being unable to use the restroom regularly, as well as enduring restrictions that prevented their access to proper healthcare.
In April 2017, the New York Times reported that President Trump intended to curtail current regulations imposed on detention centers to make way for the influx of detainees under his presidency. These plans would benefit the prison–industrial system, of course, but would also likely lead to a tremendous increase in inhumane conditions for detainees. Although news coverage has brought ICE abuses to public attention, no major establishment news outlet is reporting on ICE’s efforts to officially destroy documentation that could verify accusations of its mishandling, mistreatment, abuse, and even murder of people in its custody.
Victoria López, “ICE Plans to Start Destroying Records of Immigrant Abuse, Including Sexual Assault and Deaths in Custody,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), August 28, 2017, updated May 29, 2018, https://www.aclu.org/blog/immigrants-rights/ice-and-border-patrol-abuses/ice-plans-start-destroying-records-immigrant.
Kali Holloway, “ICE Plans to Start Destroying Records Detailing Immigrant Sexual Abuse and Deaths in Its Custody,” AlterNet, August 29, 2017, https://www.alternet.org/immigration/ice-plans-start-destroying-records-detailing-immigrant-sexual-abuse-and-deaths-its.
Student Researchers: Ellisha Huntoon (Sonoma State University), Katherine Epps (California State University, East Bay), and Kelly Van Boekhout (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Sonoma State University/Diablo Valley College)