There is a shadow prison system exclusively created for immigrants, operating in secrecy and with no programs to support those inside
In addition to the mass detention of immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), there are roughly 18,000 prison beds used daily by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in segregated immigrant-only facilities to incarcerate immigrants for federal crimes including unauthorized entry, reentry and drug crimes.
In 2005, the government put in place Operation Streamline, a program that created an expedited process for the criminal prosecution of individuals apprehended at the border (often dozens of people at a time), with virtually no due process protections. The program expanded the number of federal prosecutions dramatically. These individuals and other immigrants prosecuted for federal crimes are incarcerated by BOP in immigrant-only shadow prisons, which the government calls Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons.
These shadow prisons are managed by the BOP and are entirely operated by private prison companies with an appalling record of abuse and mismanagement, including the excessive use of solitary confinement. Shadow prisons often lack basic programming and drug treatment, with officials arguing that most immigrants with federal convictions will be deported and therefore don't deserve even the most basic services.
Shadow prisons, largely due to the deplorable conditions and extreme sentences, have also experienced organizing and rebellion on the inside. In February 2014, 2,000 of the 3,000 immigrants held at Willacy County Correctional Center — a former detention center converted into a shadow prison — led an uprising that not only dismantled the structure of the facility itself, but led to its closure. (In 2018, the Trump Administration re-opened this facility—albeit under a new name—as an immigration detention center yet again.)
In 2016, the DOJ announced plans to phase out its use of private prisons. Unfortunately, this decision was almost immediately reversed by the Trump administration and the contracts for the existing shadow prisons are currently being renewed. The Trump administration has also directed federal prosecutors to pursue more criminal prosecutions for immigration-related offenses like improper entry and re-entry, which will further increase the number of immigrants incarcerated in these shadow prisons.
Learn More About Shadow Prisons
- Detention Watch Network Summary and Analysis
Expansion of the Institutional Hearing Program and Criminal Prosecutions
- ACLU Report
Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System
- Grassroots Leadership Report
Operation Streamline: Costs and Consequences