The immigration detention system thrives on a culture of secrecy.

Efforts to limit people in immigration detention’s access to the outside world are part and parcel of punitive models of incarceration. *(Setting aside the fact that immigration detention and deportation are considered civil, non-punitive, proceedings.)* But many advocates argue these efforts are also a clear form of retaliation against those who speak out against the system.

Yesterday, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) filed a complaint against the GEO Group, Inc. and immigration officials for violating their own rules by frequently denying lawyers and loved ones the right to visit people in detention.

Read more and view the full complaint here.

Over half of the 43 detention centers that CIVIC members visit across the country do not even allow visitors to bring a pen or pencil and paper inside; cameras are never allowed.

In addition to frequently curbing visitation rights, detention centers also charge exorbitant rates for phone calls, further limiting access to legal aid, friends, and family members. Stamps and envelopes from the commissary are also pricey. According to detention standards, indigent folks should receive free stamps and envelopes. But many facilities still do not provide this.

Advocates and loved ones are not allowed to send anything to people in detention directly aside from plain letters, forms, and a limited number of photographs. Some facilities allow soft-cover books and magazines to be sent through a third-party distributor such as Amazon or Books for Prisoners. But the content of books is closely monitored; art books that too closely resemble tattoo art, for example, are rejected.

All letters are opened and checked before being distributed. Rules and limitations abound:

No stickers allowed. No writing with markers of assorted colors.

A Christmas card returned because of my use of different colored markers.

View Marcela Castro’s story about retaliation against women held at the James Musick Facility for simply trying to celebrate Halloween:
Since Trump’s election, two scheduled tours of detention facilities arranged by immigration advocacy groups in Southern California have been cancelled by ICE, with no explanation given.

The public has every right to know what is happening inside immigration detention facilities, to have access to clients and loved ones, and to hold immigration authorities accountable for failing to uphold detention standards.

California State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has re-introduced the Dignity Not Detention Act, co-sponsored by CIVIC and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which will codify the national detention standards into state law:

CA Introduces Bill to End For-Profit Immigration Detention in 2017

As CIVIC co-executive director Christina Fialho told BuzzFeed News: “We do not and will not accept any curtailment of our rights now and in the future.”

*Commentary by IMM Print Editor-in-Chief, Tina Shull