Study Finds Disturbing Pattern of Racism, Violence and Harm Perpetrated By ICE Against Black Migrants

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Black migrants are subject to abuse and a disturbing pattern of racism, violence and harm at a disproportionately higher incidence than non-Black migrants while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to a groundbreaking report released today by Black-led and immigrants rights organizations. 

Authored by the UndocuBlack Network, Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project (BLMP), Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), and Freedom for Immigrants (FFI), the first-of-its-kind study draws on nearly 17,000 call records from FFI’s National Immigration Detention Hotline spanning a six-year period. 

The data reveal a disturbing pattern of abuse perpetrated against Black migrants by ICE, private detention contractors and officials at contracting jails.

Key findings include: 

  • Twenty-eight percent of all abuse-related reports made to the FFI hotline come from Black migrants, despite accounting for only 6% of the total ICE detention population; 
  • In some detention facilities in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana, Black migrants are almost twice as likely to experience abuse inside detention compared to non-Black migrants; 
  • Black non-binary migrants are 3.5 times more likely to experience abuse in immigration detention;
  • A new FOIA request corroborated a previous study that found that 24% of all people in solitary confinement are Black;
  • Over 53% of the most high-intensity and life-threatening cases that FFI intervened on in the six-year period were on behalf of Black migrants. 

“No one should live in fear or face punishment like this, especially not for the color of their skin or where they were born,” said Moussa Haba, an author of the report and monitoring fellow with Freedom for Immigrants who was previously detained by ICE. “The United States calls itself the land of the free, but for this to be true, Black migrants like me deserve to live in freedom, not from behind bars. What I experienced in detention was the opposite of freedom. Significant trauma was inflicted upon me during this time. I was subject to an unending racism in detention, and our new report demonstrates that I am not alone. It’s clear that detention must end to stop this cycle of abuse—and our fight to abolish detention is really a fight for freedom.”

“Being detained as an immigrant and having to fight for my freedom, I have faced discrimination based on my race,” said Marlissa, a 22-year-old Bahamian woman from South Florida currently detained at the Baker County Detention Center in Florida. “I have faced a lot of racism, a lot of disrespect, and a lot of unfairness in this system. I was threatened with solitary confinement after officers used racial slurs against me. Being detained, it’s like you have no say and you have no rights. It’s as if they look at you like you’re beneath them, and the door is just being slammed in your face like you’re an animal. Once released and given a second chance, the first thing I want to do is see my family because it’s been almost three years. Then I want to continue my enrollment in college to follow my dream, and I want to continue to try to be successful in life and be a role model to my siblings and society.” 

“It is not shocking that Black migrants in detention describe their conditions as torture, because detention is torture,” said Ronald Claude, director of policy & advocacy with Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). “Our report ‘Uncovering the Truth’ makes it clear that the U.S. immigration system is anti-Black. Detention is one of the enduring legacies of this country’s history of slavery and Jim Crow laws. Collecting race and ethnicity data is critical as it makes visible the Black people detained by the U.S. government.”

“The profit-driven mass incarceration system of the U.S. is built on the backs of formerly enslaved Black people and Black migrants,” said Haddy Gassama, policy and advocacy director of UndocuBlack Network“White supremacist sentiments and anti-Blackness are not only endemic in the current systems of policing and immigration enforcement, they were the driving factors for the existence of these inhumane institutions. The U.S. has the world’s largest carceral system, and Black folks bear the heaviest brunt of its cruelty. Immigration is a Black issue, and as long as the practice of detention exists, Black migrants will always face anti-Blackness within the system that was built to uniquely harm them. The findings of this report affirm the call for the complete abolition of all forms of detention.”

“Detention is abusive, harmful and foremost anti-Black,” said Zack Mohamed, deportation defense coordinator with the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project (BLMP). “We need to abolish this practice, as it denies the dignity and humanity of migrants. This report not only lists the harms and abuse, but also has recommendations, and we call on the Biden administration and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to exercise the power they currently have to abolish detention.”

“Anti-Black racism and violence is a systemic, defining feature of immigration detention,” said Amanda Díaz, national hotline manager with Freedom for Immigrants. “Rooted in white supremacy, immigration detention is an extension of the racist mass incarceration system, functioning as yet another institution designed to oppress and criminalize Black people in the U.S. Our findings affirm the truth that Black advocates in detention have been calling attention to for years: Detained Black migrants are targeted with anti-Black racism, far higher levels of abuse, and unfair outcomes. The Biden administration has effectively condoned this abuse by continuing to rely on detention and other deterrence policies. We must end the dehumanization of Black migrants and the detention system that sustains this legacy of anti-Black violence. It’s past time Black migrants were welcomed with human dignity, not cages.” 

The study’s findings add to a growing body of evidence of anti-Black racism in immigration detention, which has previously been documented in past reports, civil rights complaints and memos to DHS published or filed by Black-led groups and other immigrants’ rights groups. The internal organizing and advocacy work of detained Black migrants has been critical to establishing this pattern of racism and disparate treatment. 

To end the systemic abuse of Black migrants, the groups call for an end to immigration detention. Among other administrative, legislative, humanitarian and state-level strategies, advocates also urge the Biden administration to publicly recognize and condemn the rampant abuse of Black migrants and use its discretion to release Black migrants to allow them to resolve their immigration proceedings from the safety of their families and communities. 

Read the full report here.

Para leer este reporte en español, haga click aquí.

Pour lire ce rapport en français, cliquez ici.


The detainment of Black immigrants stems from a long legacy of violence, control and abuse of Black people in the United States. In recent decades, the immigration detention system has served to further entrench the mass incarceration and criminalization of Black people. Like all Black people in the U.S., Black migrants are stopped, searched and arrested at higher rates than non-Black migrants, and are disproportionately represented among detained immigrants facing deportation in immigration court on criminal grounds. 

Concerningly, anti-Black abuse in detention is effectively obscured by the government since ICE does not gather racial demographic data nor provide any public information about its data collection practices regarding race, a practice that is standard among other government agencies and law enforcement. 

Despite the ongoing abuse and racism, Black migrants continue to resist, speak out and advocate for their freedom. The report documents several examples of resistance across detention facilities in the South, where a lasting legacy of Black and Indigenous-led movements and resistance persist, oftentimes in the same jails and prisons constructed in the eras of Jim Crow, forced penal labor and mass incarceration.

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