According to a report published by Jacqueline Stevens in this week’s The Nation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is confining an unknown number of people in 186 secret, unmarked, and unlisted subfield offices. Since the subfield offices are designed to hold detainees in transit, they are not subject to ICE Detention Standards. As a result, Stevens claims ICE has essentially been able to hold individuals charged with a civil infraction in “conditions approaching those no longer authorized for accused terrorists.”
Stevens describes B-18, a Los Angeles storage space converted into an ICE sub-field office, as an “irrationally revolving stockroom that would shuttle the same people briefly to the local jails, sometimes from 1 to 5 am, and then bring them back, shackled to one another, stooped and crouching in overpacked vans.” In 2008, former ICE Director James Pendergraph boasted that, “If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we can make him disappear.” For one B-18 detainee, the worst part of her experience wasn’t the dirt, bugs, or clogged, stinking toilet — it was not knowing how long she would be held in a place where no one in the outside world could find her. B-18 detainees have also been left at the office overnight and forced to sleep on benches or the concrete floor without showers, heat, drinking water, soap, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, mail, attorneys or legal information.
ICE apparently “fixed the situation” after Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder were named in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and National Immigration Law Center this year. Though the lawsuit was settled and the government promptly took steps to correct many of the problems, it’s still unclear whether the improved B-18 facility represents the norm, or just one of the few exceptions amongst the clandestine network of ICE sub-field offices.
According to an October report by Dora Shriro, then special adviser to Janet Napolitano, subfield offices represent three percent of the average daily detained population and 84 percent of all book-ins. Following Shriro’s report, DHS announced a series of reforms aimed at reining in the web of federal centers, state and county lockups, and for-profit prisons that constitute a multi billion dollar “patchwork” of detention cells created by the Bush administration. However, some critics pointed out that many of the reforms are “so fundamental that you have to wonder what they are replacing.” ICE refused Stevens’ request for an interview and offered no explanation for the lack of public disclosure of subfield office locations and phone numbers.