Skip to main content

Concludes Lengthy Federal Court Battle in Freedom of Information Act Case

Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) has completed a three-year-long battle in federal court after the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released previously undisclosed inspection records from immigration detention facilities.

The immigration agency has posted hundreds of documents related to the federal detention system on its website, including reports from independent inspection visits by the American Bar Association (ABA) and intergovernmental service agreements between ICE and county jails that hold immigration detainees.

NIJC sued ICE in the federal District Court of Northern Illinois in 2006 after the agency refused to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for the ABA reports and county contracts.

Lawyers from the ABA have visited immigration detention facilities since 2003 to interview detainees, observe detention conditions, and prepare reports on facilities’ compliance with ICE’s detention standards. However, their access to the facilities was contingent on the reports remaining confidential. The recently released monitoring reports confirm anecdotal evidence of widespread human rights violations within the detention system.

“These reports show the importance of independent monitoring of a system that detains more than 400,000 men, women, and children every year,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center. “A preliminary review of these documents reveals that, despite recommendations from human rights organizations and other groups in recent years, ICE has largely failed to improve human rights protections and living conditions for detainees.”

The National Immigrant Justice Center urges ICE to continue to provide public access to the immigration detention system. Independent observers, including nongovernmental organizations, must be permitted to visit and tour all facilities holding ICE detainees, meet privately with detainees, and take other reasonable steps to monitor compliance with ICE’s detention standards and international human rights standards. Finally, these organizations should be permitted to issue public reports on the information gathered during their visits.

“We hope that ICE will continue posting inspection reports on its website, including future reports by the ABA and other independent monitoring organizations” McCarthy said. “This is an important step toward the transparency and openness that has been promised by the Obama administration and that will help hold detention centers and county jails accountable for their treatment of the men, women, and children in their custody.”


Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a Chicago-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. For more information visit