Press Release

IACHR Expresses Deep Concern for Deaths and Detention Conditions at Migrant Detention Centers in the United States

August 11, 2017

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Washington, D.C. –The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses deep concern for the deaths of ten migrant persons detained under custody of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities, which occurred during the 2017 fiscal year, which commenced on October 1, 2016 and is due to end on September 30, 2017. The IACHR urges the Government of the United States to undertake a serious and impartial investigation regarding these deaths, including the detention conditions of migrant persons under its custody.

The most recent of these deaths is the one of Rolando Meza Espinoza,  a Honduran national who was detained by ICE in April of this year and passed away under its custody on June 10, as a consequence of a series of health issues that were not treated appropriately by the U.S. migration authorities, according to public sources. Based on official information, among the 10 migrant persons who have died throughout the fiscal year 2017, 2 were from Honduras, 1 from Brazil, 1 from Guatemala, 1 from Jamaica, 1 from Mexico, 1 from Nicaragua, 1 from Panama, 1 from India, and 1 from the United Kingdom. These deaths equal the number of deaths of migrant persons under custody of ICE which took place during the fiscal year 2016, which were the most numerous in the last five years. Most of the deaths occurring in the fiscal year 2017 have been as a result of medical issues and one case of suicide of a person while in solitary confinement. The Commission observes with concern that this last suicide brings the number to 6 with the other cases of suicide which have occurred during the last 5 years.

The Inter-American Commission also expresses its deep concern about the information received concerning hunger strikes which have occurred during these past months in the migrant detention centers of the Adelanto Correctional Facility in the state of California and the Northwest Detention Center in the state of Washington, both operated by the private corporation GEO Group. During the hunger strikes, migrant persons and asylum applicants have reclaimed decent detention conditions, due process guarantees, the possibility of requesting asylum and access to bails to continue with their processes in liberty. According to  information received, the Commission is concerned about the use of solitary confinement, as well as beatings and the use of pepper sprays.

The Commission reiterates that the United States has the absolute obligation to prevent and to sanction torture, together with the obligation of treating detained migrant persons fairly and humanely, with strict adherence to the obligations which derive from international and regional instruments of human rights. The Commission reiterates that when there is a complaint or justified reason to believe that a possible act of torture has been committed, the State must guarantee that its authorities will act immediately to execute investigations concerning the case and initiate, when applicable, criminal proceedings and then fully compensate the victims. Furthermore, the State must ensure that the right to present complaints before the competent national authorities, the Inter-American Commission, and the other competent international organs for acts of torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, as well as detention conditions, must be granted without delay to migrant persons detained in migrant detention centers without retaliation.

In accordance with international norms and standards, the Commission reiterates to the United States that immigration detention should be an exceptional measure, done after an individualized assessment of the case, and for the shortest possible time. In addition, the State cannot resort to the detention of children or their parents in order to discourage irregular migration. In exceptional cases where immigration detention is used, the State must ensure decent conditions of detention, including ensuring the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and ensuring that the use of isolation measures is only as a measure of last resort, for a limited period of time, and solely to safeguard legitimate interests, in accordance with the Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas and recalling that its prolongation and improper and unnecessary use constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas, Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants of the IACHR, said: "These deaths are an addition to the demand for better conditions that have been made by detainees and civil society regarding detention centers in the United States. Despite the hunger strikes and the various reports and demands from the IACHR and civil society organizations, the authorities continue to fail to take effective measures to prevent deaths and abuses against migrants in detention." Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, the IACHR's Country Rapporteur for the United States, added: "It is extremely concerning how the detention of migrants continues to become a business for private companies and local governments without accountability or transparency regarding immigration detention centers. Unfortunately, we have seen that efforts have been made to maximize profits through cuts in service costs, which have a negative impact on detention conditions, particularly in the physical and mental health of migrants in detention.

The IACHR recalls that detained migrants, regardless of whether the detention centers are operated by private companies, are in the custody of the State and that the State is responsible for preventing human rights violations, including the obligation to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. To this end, it is essential to ensure autonomous and independent monitoring mechanisms, allowing civil society organizations to have access to detention facilities for the purpose of monitoring detention conditions, which includes ensuring full access to all the installations of the places of deprivation of liberty; the access to the information and documentation relating to the institution and the persons deprived of liberty; and the possibility of conducting private and confidential interviews with persons deprived of liberty and personnel, as established in Principle XXIV of the Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas

The IACHR calls on the US authorities to adequately supervise their contracts with private companies in order to have effective mechanisms to ensure compliance with detention conditions in accordance with human rights norms and standards, through accountability and transparency.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.


* This is a corrected version of the press release originally issued. The correction was made on August 14, 2017.

No. 119/17