What is Immigration Detention & the General State of Immigrant Detention?

The U.S. government may detain an individual who is currently in immigration proceedings or who has been ordered removed and who is awaiting deportation. Immigration detention is civil in nature.

The government houses detainees in a network of local jails, federally owned, and privately operated facilities, scattered throughout the United States. Of the hundreds of facilities, some are privately managed by for-profit correctional companies, and some are publicly-owned like county jails. Many of these facilities are remote. The more remote the facility, the more difficult it is for family members and attorneys to visit. Compounding the problem, many detainees are moved at least once, which makes it more difficult for attorneys and families to visit and correspond with detainees. Between 1994 and 2017, the average daily detained population quintupled; in 2017, the average daily population surpassed 38,100. Nationals from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras make up the majority of detainees.

Human Rights & Abuse Violations in Immigrant Detention Centers

Some of the complaints by detainees and advocates, about ICE detention centers include severe overcrowding, detainees placed in solitary confinement, inadequate medical care, sexual and physical abuse, prolonged detention, issues with sanitation, and unfair labor practices.

Inadequate medical care and poor sanitation can exacerbate existing medical issues; many detainees also have mental health issues which go unaddressed or untreated. Occasionally detention conditions have become so bad that detainees have committed suicide.

The General State of Detention for Children and Families


Unaccompanied minors should be transferred to the custody of the Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. This transfer should happen within 72 hours. Accompanied children, legally cannot be held in ICE detention for more than 20 days, although they are regularly held for much longer than that. Keeping minors in custody is a human rights issue, as any form of detention can have profound negative and lifelong effects in children.


Families, particularly along the southern border, are being detained. When families are detained, they should be kept together, and generally speaking, alternatives to detention are preferred. Alternatives include release on your own recognizance, or wearing an ankle monitor.

In response to the influx of families crossing the southern border, ICE has opened numerous family detention centers. Currently, there are three facilities designated as ‘Family Residential Centers’ (although one is now being used solely to house women).

Beginning in April 2018, the Trump administration implemented a “zero-tolerance policy,” which resulted in the separation of over 2,500 children from their parents. The practice of separating children from their parents officially ceased in June 2018, pursuant to a court order, although an additional 700 children were separated from their parents after June 2018. As of July 2019, 30 separated children have not been reunited with a parent or a sponsor.

The General State of Detention along the Southern Border

The detention centers along the Southern U.S. border are particularly abysmal with severe overcrowding, inadequate facilities, insufficient services for minors, and dehumanizing conditions being a few concerns. Many of the facilities are not equipped for families or long term residents; however, both are frequently kept in these facilities.

If you know someone who is detained by ICE, please have them contact an immigration attorney immediately. Our attorneys at Landerholm Immigration, APC, are experienced and dedicated to these cases. Please feel free to call us at (510) 491-0291 to see how we can help.

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