Journalism in the Public Interest

The Facts Behind the Government’s New ‘Hospitality’ Guidelines for Immigrant Detainees

The government’s new standards for more humane detention of undocumented immigrants have been criticized as too cushy. So what are they? 

Undocumented Mexican immigrants wait to be deported from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) center on April 28, 2010, in Phoenix. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The government recently unveiled a new set of rules outlining better care for immigrants and asylum seekers detained while waiting for their deportation hearings.

The guidelines, issued by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement service (ICE), have been assailed by congressional Republicans, who say they amount to coddling illegal immigrants.

The controversy heated up last week in a hearing called "Holiday on ICE," held by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who has referred to the new rules as "a hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants." He pointed in particular to a new federal facility in Texas that the administration has held up as an example of a less penal approach to non-criminal immigration detainees. The guards there don't wear uniforms, and the facility has, as Smith pointed out, a soccer field, volleyball court and cable TV. The $32 million center was built by a private contractor, and ICE claims it will cost less per day to house detainees there than in other facilities.

Smith, as well as the head of the union representing ICE agents, says the new guidelines are too loose on security, and that the government's focus should be on deporting undocumented immigrants faster. Meanwhile, immigrant rights advocates say detainees who aren't criminal offenders shouldn't be treated as such.

So, what are the new guidelines, and what prompted the changes to ICE's policy?

The government detains about 400,000 illegal immigrants each year. On a given day, roughly 32,000 people are held, about half of them in jails rather than immigrant detention facilities. (PBS' "Frontline" provides a useful history of changes to U.S. detention policy and an interactive map of ICE detention centers.)

The rules, which are gradually taking effect, are meant to address areas of detention that have long been problematic.

Access to medical care: More than 100 immigrants in detention have died since 2003, many from lack of access to medical care or proper medication. The New York Times reported in 2010 that immigration officials covered up many deaths and that few safeguards for transparency were in place. The new guidelines promise better regular medical care, including mental health and separate standards for women's health.

Protection against sexual abuse: The American Civil Liberties Union found 185 reported incidents of sexual abuse between 2007 and 2010. Immigration detention centers are not covered by legislation aimed at reducing prison rape, and the new guidelines are supposed to improve supervision of detainees as well as the process for reporting sexual abuse.

Access to family and legal help: Because detainees are spread across hundreds of facilities, often in isolated areas, and frequently transferred, it was difficult for family members or lawyers to remain in close contact with them. A Human Rights Watch report found that 46 percent of detainees were moved at least twice, and 3,600 detainees were transferred 10 times or more. The new guidelines improve access to bilingual interpreters, and call for better communication with families and legal counsels about transfers. (ICE also issued a directive this year to minimize transfers.) Facilities are "encouraged to provide opportunities for both contact and non-contact visitation."

Advocates have pointed out that many aspects of new guidelines and the new Texas facility, such as increased freedom of movement and contact visitation, bring the ICE guidelines in line with the standards at many federal correctional facilities, especially low-security ones.

The government plans to build more facilities like the one in Texas, though most detainees will still find themselves housed in less plush environs. Only about 14 percent are expected to be held in new facilities like the one in Texas.

The administration has continued a policy begun under President George W. Bush in which asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants are detained until their court dates. Arrests and deportations have risen steadily since Obama took office.

The administration is billing the rules and new construction as part of a shift in focus away from non-criminal immigrants to catching and deporting criminal immigrants.

It’s unfortunate when anyone dies while being incarcerated irrespective of the cause.  However, 100 out of 400,000 in the past 9 years doesn’t sound all that bad.  Am I missing something ?  Perhaps soccer, basketball and Television should help to reduce the number of fatalities.

These people are HUMAN BEINGS, who’s only crime was to try to get to a better life here in the U.S. They got caught, and are dealing with those repercussions, so why make matters worse by treating them like animals? Being locked up is being locked up, and being away from one’s family is being away from one’s family. If there’s an assumption that these people would somehow enjoy ANY of this process, that assumption is coming from a perspective which is strictly on the outside looking in. That kind of perspective has NO credibility, and it could be easily argued that it’s dangerous. It will cause more problems than it solves, and make matters much worse than they have to be for everyone involved except those who don’t really know what the hell they’re talking about.

John G. Fabie

April 3, 2012, 4:02 p.m.

“it’s unfortunate when anyone dies while being incarcerated irrespective of the cause.  However, 100 out of 400,000 in the past 9 years doesn’t sound all that bad.”.

Not “all that bad” unless you or a relative or friend were one of them and the deaths were medically preventable but for your/their conditions of detention.

If it truly costs less than jail and is more humane then what’s Lamar’s point?  Other than just rehtoric to apease the masses.

I wonder what other groups Hugh would like to see encarcerated and under risk of dying from systematic negligence. His blase attitude indicates he’s been trodden down by someone or something and doesn’t mind it at all when it happens to others. Or maybe he trolls to get attention no one else is giving him. Must be a miserable existence.

For anybody who has any doubt about how sick this country has become, and how the private prison industry exploits these people and the taxpayers, go to or They’re not just killing these people and getting away with it, they’re treating them like livestock. It’s disgusting, and as a Navy vet, it makes me ashamed of what this country has become…

Our government has a law that has not been enforced by Bush nor Obama. Now I want you to look from the inside of any other nations jails, in Mexico, you get stopped with all the Legal Papers for a minor inplyied infraction & either if you don’t cough up a bunch of Green Backs, you most likely won’t be seen again & this is normal practice in nations world wide! If you don’t have big time political ties or not a Holleywood big shot, you are at the mercy of who ever is charge. Americans vanishish every day & it never makes the news, but let a law breaker of our laws who comes here with out going through the proper process is wrong, what do you people not get about this law? It is easy. Apply for the papers & wait in line like the thousands already that have done this & can’t come because of the over crouded of illegals. Well soon they will want go back home because home will be better off than the USA. The government has made it clear they will lock you up with out charge for every if need be, what the heck is wrong with you people?

Now giving these people a place of confort & a playing field & TV is not all bad, when their all gone, I sure there is enough wall street bankers/regulators & other gov officials could use a place to hold up for about 100 years if our court system is ever restored to repersent real justise instead of the get card free conditions they have now for doing all the wrong doing they have & still engage in daily. We should also have a place for the head of the EPA in Alaska some where & the rest of those who have thrown the Constitution under the bus for their own monetary & political gains, it would only be fitting for them to be in such a clean untouch inviorment & hope they have the skills to kill their own food & make a fire to cook it with! Now building a house with nothing but a ax & mud would make men & ladies out of them!

I also have big place in my heart for congress, pay them what they earn, if they make bad laws that harm the economy, dock them until they have to pay the Tax Payers for doing such a bad job & we know that we have not had a BUGET in over 3 years, why do we pay for such lack of common sense!

Look to June for sone big changes & it may be later, but it’s coming & if you have not prepared, I feel sorry for you! Hey, the MSM will let know when it’s to late!

I’m surprised at the number of responses without substance who must resort to personal attacks. Sounds like the Republican primary. All seemed to have forgotten my comment that it’s unfortunate when anyone dies in prison. The article was void of the cause of the 100 deaths. There could have been many more than 100 out of 40,000 in 9 years if they were not in prison…or if they were back home with their families.  A preschooler can do the math.

How many deaths out of 40,000 in 9 years do you think would have occurred if they weren’t in prison.  Do the math

Be easy to make the Republican politicians shut up…all the Administration has to do is offer to allow those Republicans to “privatize” those facilities to the benefit of their campaign donors.

It isn’t the money the government spends that bothers Republicans - it is which segment of the American population is getting it.

I think spending millions and more to be built for Illegals, is the darn thinking of Spend Spend of this Administration.  We have thousands of American Citizens in jails and prisons that are overcrowded by over many thousands. Our prisons are full of illegals, drug offenders and many that should Not even be there. Some waiting years just for a trial cause courts are so backed up. And what do we do???  Build multi million dollar Centers for people coming here Illegally??? Many could be drug dealers, criminals, gang members and yes, come can be nice and just wanting to be here.  We have more in prisons than any other country!!!  They are so overcrowded, little medical care, rapes and murders and corrupt guards and Obama is Building Plush Centers for Illegals?????????  They should just be in our prisons like every other American has to be. Stop the darn Spending, I need the money.

If I were living under the same conditions as the y live under in Mexico, I would do everything I could do to provide for my family. However, I would consider very carefully the consequences of breaking the in lieu of conforming to the law. In response to Joe, the reason I am on the outside looking in is that I respect the law…particularly the law of the greatest country on Earth.

Hugh, let’s not forget that a lot of these people are from South America too. When I commented about how the outside looking in perspective has no credibility, I was making the point that by saying these people were being detained in a plush environment without actually having been there, that particular point of view is subjective in every way. I wasn’t referring to anything you said, I was reffering to what was said in the article. But since you opened this door, I have no choice but to walk through it. Ya see, if it wasn’t for this country’s hypocritical stance on drug use, and a completely failed ‘war on drugs’,which was never a war on drugs in the first place, a lot of what goes on in Mexico wouldn’t, and everybody would be much better off. Now it’s good that you say you respect the law, but I have a suspicion that you respect the law only because it has never affected you in the same way it has affected millions of your fellow citizens. People who’s only crime was to either be of color, born into poverty, suffer from addiction and/or mental health disorders, or all of the above. Please tell me that your calling America the greatest country on earth has some credibility behind it. I mean have you ever lived anywhere else?

Holiday on ICE,” held by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who has referred to the new rules as “a hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants.” He pointed in particular to a new federal facility in Texas that the administration has held up as an example of a less penal approach to non-criminal immigration detainees. The guards there don’t wear uniforms, and the facility has, as Smith pointed out, a soccer field, volleyball court and cable TV
The   last time that I checked the word Illegal is an

1. Prohibited by law.
2. Prohibited by official rules: IE It is illegal to rob a bank
So if I am to understand meaning of the words ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS.
Prohibited by law, prohibited by offical rules A person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another.

How can anyone say they are “Non-criminal immigrants”  Are we not a nation of laws ?
Three hots and a cot cable TV Air, heat, do nothing all day. I have been working 40+ years for that great retirement. What fool !

Well they don’t deserve to die for crossing our border but I don’t think we should be spending so much money hanging onto them we really should just chuck em back over the border as soon as its confirmed they don’t have American citizenship. Asylum seekers, just transfer via cheap transport to facilities and await trial and just skip the rest. Also abolish the rule that makes their babies citizens if born in the u.s. unless they have a parent that is American.

It’s quite obvious that there are widely divergent opinions on the issue of “immigration”.  So I guess it’s in the hands of the politicians both left and right.  Oh yes, I almost forgot about potential voters as a possible factor.  Fortunately we are in a country where freedom of expression is still available.  And in this great country, we also allow “illegal immigratants” freedom of expression.  Finally, to get back to my original point, 100 deaths out of 40,000 in 9 years is incredible.  I would think that more than that die naturally of old age.  PLEASE do the numbers.

I have to admit a certain grudging admiration for the last two administrations.  Rather than improve the economy (nobody complains about immigrants, legal or not, when there’s money to go around), they trot out stories like this to divide us into “pro-immigrant” or “anti-illegal” camps while they loot the treasury some more.  If nothing else, they certainly know their audience.

Look, these are human beings.  We’re the country that claims that life and liberty is precious.  If a serial killer gets food and cable TV, then the guy who came here to escape an oppressive regime (or even to make five bucks an hour bussing tables) deserves at least that much respect.

If your problem is that there are American citizens who don’t get such benefits while these people do (oddly, not an argument I hear often), then demand that our government solve THAT problem, rather than complaining about who is granted respect.

Whenever I hear somebody use the term ‘3 hots, a cot, and cable t.v.’, I can only shake my head in wonder. If anybody, and I mean anybody, actually thinks that any part of these peoples experience in being deported is in any way pleasant, I would challenge you to show me how. There is something called dignity, and exactly what would be served by treating these people any other way. To make themselves ‘feel’ better? Would locking them up in a cage without any food, water, human contact, or exercise make anyone ‘feel’ any better? It’s really easy to complain from the outside looking in, but when you’re there, on the ground, and are seeing this stuff first hand, chances are things’ll be looked at much differently. And Hugh, if one of these people who died at the hands of this sick system were one of your loved ones, I wonder how you would react to their death if you knew that they had died in pain due to something as simple as a sinus infection that went untreated for too long… Think you’d be a little angry?

Joseph, you either haven’t read all of my comments, or you choose to select out of context remarks that lead to ad hominen responses.  Please answer three questions (1) How many of the 100 deaths out of 40,000 in nine years were caused intentionally or negligently, (2) Based on the same statistics would estimate would have died in Juarez, Mexico, and (3) Do you think there would be less deaths if we provide them with sports and recreational facilities, color TV, etc.?
Unfortunately, you appear to characterize anyone who may object to our government spending making conditions more comfortable as cruel and cold hearted.  NOT TRUE.  Financially our country is in the tank for many reasons thanks primarily to the politicians.  I apologize for getting of the point,  but the issue of immigration is considerably more complicated than creature comforts.

Hugh. For me, it’s more than just the deaths that have gone on in these facilities. It’s the inhumane treatment, and unwarranted vilification of a people. Your assuming what ‘might’ have happened to these people had they not come over here as a justification for what? As for how many of these deaths were caused intentionally or due to negligence, I would argue that even if that number is only 1, that is way too many. Life shouldn’t be simplified by attaching it to any kind of numbers game. I know there would be fewer deaths if the people who run that particular show were to go into one of these places, spend a little time learning about the process, and approach things PROACTIVELY. As opposed to sitting in some posh office somewhere listening to the opinions of others, and making judgements according to their words. How much money is too much? How much is not enough? If keeping these people busy and providing them with basic human dignity costs a little more in the short term, and keeps them from dying in the long term, I feel like it’s a pretty simple choice. What’s even more expensive over all IS treating them like animals, not providing them with some pretty simple ‘comforts’, (as you put it), then having something bad happen which could easily end up in an expensive lawsuit. Penny wise and pound stupid is how I characterize anybody’s short sighted views. Being cruel and cold has never achieved a sound resolution. It only makes matters worse…

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