ICE Abuses of Detained Immigrants Go Under-reported

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In December 2017, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials kept 92 Somalis locked up for 40 hours on a deportation flight that for “logistical reasons” had to return home, Maryam Saleh reported for the Intercept.  The Somalis said that they were forced to urinate in bottles or on themselves while chained up during the 40 hours, and that some of them were threatened and beaten by ICE officers.

ICE officials deny that any of the Somalis were mistreated, but, as recent independent news reports show, the plight of the Somalis was not a case of a few officers going rogue; there is a pattern of abuse by ICE officers.

For example, as the ACLU reported in August, 2017, in July several Iraqi men who had already been held in immigration custody in Arizona for months were finally told that they were going to be released. They called their families to tell them the joyous news.  A few hours later, the guards, with smirks on their faces informed them that they were actually just being transported to another detention facility. The ACLU reports that such abuses are commonplace, and part of a systemic strategy to pressure those held to sign away their rights and accept deportation back to Iraq where they would face “near-certain persecution, torture, or death.”

While stories about the scope of ICE arrests and deportations are not at all under-reported, the abuses that a huge percentage of migrants have suffered at the hands of ICE has been.  Coverage of ICE’s role in policing immigration and deporting immigrants tends to focus on newsmakers such as Presidents Trump and Obama, and on how the rates of deportation have changed during their presidencies—at the expense of coverage featuring immigrants’ own stories and experiences. The only stories that focus on abuses by ICE officers can be tracked back to research and advocacy campaigns by organizations such as the ACLU.

The establishment press do occasionally cover specific events—as the New York Times and CNN did in the case of the 92 Somalis detained in December, 2017—but the corporate news spotlight quickly refocuses on other topics, leaving  systemic abuses by ICE officials relatively unknown.


Maryam Saleh, “Excessive Force: ICE Shackled 92 Somalis for 40 Hours on a Failed Deportation Flight.  That Was Just the Start of the Abuse,” The Intercept, March 4, 2018,

Esther Yu His Lee, “Survey Says 24% of ICE Detainees Were Subjected to Some Type of Abuse,” ThinkProgress, September 20, 2017,

Rebecca Wallace,  Sara Neel and Arash Jahanian, “ICE is Abusing the ACLU’s Clients Because They are Fighting Trump’s Deportation Machine,” American Civil Liberties Union, August 31, 2017,

Student Researcher: Marta Bartholomew (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)