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Civil Rights Coalition Condemns Deplorable Conditions at Pennsylvania Immigrant Detention Center

WASHINGTON – Citing inhumane conditions and constitutional violations, Advancement Project National Office, Juntos, and Casa San Jose today filed a letter of findings with the Philadelphia U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Field Office, the York County Prison, and the ICE Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in Washington, DC. The letter details the organizations’ eyewitness accounts of deplorable conditions during their April 2, 2019, stakeholder visit to York County Prison.

“Our visit to York County Prison was heart wrenching and depressing. Witnessing how the current immigration detention system criminalizes and punishes vulnerable populations – people who should be released to their families and communities whenever possible – was appalling,” said Losmin Jimenez, director of Advancement Project National Office’s Immigrant Justice Program. “‘Immigration detention,’ by its very name is misleading. It is not ‘detention;’ it is prison. The immigration detention system, like mass incarceration, dehumanizes individuals at every level.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ Inter-Governmental Service Agreement (IGSA) with ICE for York County Prison allows ICE to rent about half of the beds in the 1500-person facility.  On April 2, 690 migrants were detained at the state-run facility. People who are detained were housed in “pods” – or large, open-air rooms containing 60 bunk beds for sleeping.

“We saw one of these rooms and not only are all of the beds out in the open, but so are the toilets and the showers. There were no curtains in the facility at all, meaning everyone who was detained there had to sleep, eat, urinate, defecate, and bathe in full view of other people,” said Miguel E. Andrade, communications manager of Juntos. “People who are detained under immigration enforcement are experiencing conditions that constitute punishment, in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

“Every person deserves access to basic things like fresh, healthy food, clean, safe drinking water, and responsive healthcare,” said Monica Ruiz, executive director of Casa San Jose. “In our interviews of migrants, we heard complaints of the water smelling like fecal matter and sewage. We spoke with others who had to buy additional clothing from the commissary in order to stay warm. People detained sometimes have to wait days or weeks to have their medical needs addressed. The denial of basic hygiene and human dignity is not an anomaly at these detention centers – it is the norm. The detention of immigrants must end today.”

“We cannot sit still while thousands of people are detained at York and other ICE facilities, suffering under what we see as cruel, inhumane, and unnecessary treatment, and in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.N. Convention Against Torture,” continued Jimenez. “In light of the serious concerns we observed and heard from individuals detained at York, we recommend that ICE take the following steps:

  1. End ICE usage of the York facility effective immediately;
  2. End the detention of migrating individuals;
  3. Release individuals under humanitarian parole who have passed credible fear or individuals who are sole caregivers, are elderly, or have a medical condition.
  4. Facilitate access to pro bono legal services for those immigrants who are currently detained.”

The filed letter, signed by a cadre of civil rights and immigrant justice organizations, including VietLead and Asian Americans United, includes 10 immediate actions York County Prison should take including allowing people to not be confined to their assigned pods, with the exception of counts and meal times. The letter comes ahead of the release of a full report by Advancement Project National Office, Juntos, and Casa San Jose, documenting conditions at the York County Prison this fall.

Click here to read the letter in full.


Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras

Juntos is a Latinx-led immigrant rights organization based in Philadelphia.

Casa San Jose is a community resource center that advocates for and empowers Latinos by promoting integration and self-sufficiency in Pennsylvania.

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