In mid-March, advocate groups in New Orleans discovered that a few hundred asylum seekers and migrants had been moved to River Correctional Facility (RCF), a parish prison in Ferriday, LA operated by LaSalle Correctional Corporation. The move was made outside of any official ICE registry. In mid-April it was revealed that thousands more were being moved to two other LaSalle-owned facilities, similarly with no public record or paper trail to document their movement.
As of April 30th, an estimated 3,000 migrants were being held within River, Jackson, and Richwood correctional facilities. All three are in central Louisiana and owned and operated by LaSalle. This is in addition to Pine Prairie and LaSalle ICE Processing Facilities, the two “official” ICE operated immigrant detention centers already existing in Louisiana, which each hold around 1,100 people. Exact numbers remain unknown because these facilities are operating outside of the ICE locator system.
When a non-citizen enters the US and applies for asylum or residency they are given an “Alien Number” (“A-number”). If someone enters the immigration detention system, the only practical way to locate them is with this number. Numbers in this system are frequently not updated for months or years, if ever. But what’s clear is that people detained in these facilities are experiencing a host of repressive tactics and human rights abuses.
On March 22nd, detainees inside RCF went on hunger strike. The strikers, eventually reaching some 150-200, demanded:
- That asylum seekers get a chance to get out on parole or bail.
- That detainees be given appearances before a different judge than the racist parish Judge Landis, who has a 100% denial rate of release options.
- An immediate end to the psychological torture and human rights abuses inflicted on the migrant population of this prison by correctional officers and ICE agents.
Historically, when an asylum seeker obtains documents proving their persecution, passes their “Credible Fear Interview,” and proves their sponsorship, they are granted parole or bond— opportunities to pursue asylum proceedings outside of detention. Once bond is paid (if required by the judge), people are released with an ankle monitor to ensure they attend all future court dates and ICE check-ins. This process alone is an aggressive criminalization of people in migration, but to jail those who have successfully jumped through every heinous hoop of the US immigration system with no chance for bond or parole is blatant torture.
The hunger strike has since been broken. Prison officials were brutal in repressing it, with some strikers locked in solitary confinement to this day. However, the detainees’ struggle for visibility, justice, dignity, and freedom continues, and this should be a reminder to those of us on the outside. Their defiance can be an example for us all.
There is a ubiquity in the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers across the entire US immigration system. Detaining non-citizens differs from incarcerating citizens in certain key ways, namely that migrant detainees have none of the same rights—they are not afforded the meager protections and privileges that citizenship entails. Few federal regulations apply to detention centers, which are often called “temporary shelters” or “emergency response centers.”
These loopholes and gray areas in US policy mean that people often lack consistent access to water, food, or blankets. There’s no access to legal information or free lawyers. They are not even granted the abhorrent wages that citizen prisoners receive (which in most prisons is one dollar per day). They’re denied access to medical or psychological care even as many people often have serious unaddressed health and psychological issues. Trans people are often forced to be housed with those of their sex assigned at birth. Sexual assaults are rampant, as are unreported miscarriages. Abortions are denied. The prisons do not provide translation services, leaving other detainees to help clarify processes, or trapping people into signing paperwork they don’t understand.
Louisiana courts ruling on immigration cases have denied nearly all claims for asylum, parole, and bond. In RCF, detainees are unaware of anyone who has been released on an asylum claim. They are so desperate to escape the terrible conditions and hopeless asylum prospects that some are signing deportation orders—and still being held indefinitely. Why transfer thousands of people to a state with such an abysmal record? Why push refugees into a system of indefinite detention? Being put in limbo like this, without any idea of when you may get out, is psychological torture.
In the early 1990s, federal courts ordered Louisiana— with the highest rate of incarceration in the world— to do something about its overcrowded state prisons. Instead of addressing issues of recidivism, extremely harsh sentencing, and a justice system firmly rooted in the violent exploitation of black and brown people, the state encouraged private prison companies to partner with sheriffs to build a host of new parish prisons. This is the same prison system that leased its convicts as free plantation labor after the 1865 abolition of chattel slavery, and still serves as a nexus for big business and state profit.
By building a new network of small-capacity jails, the state was able to simultaneously meet the demands of the feds by transferring people from overcrowded prisons to new facilities and create a burgeoning economic sector in the impoverished countryside. These facilities are contracted by the state, which grants the sheriffs who run them $24.39 per prisoner per day in operating costs. ICE contracts are coveted though: ICE will pay over $60, more than twice the daily rate. Alan Cupp, the previous warden of Richwood Parish Detention Center (now a migrant detention black site) in Mangham, LA called the approximately 800 beds in his jail his “honey holes … When they are full the honey flows nicely.” Prisons are profitable businesses, as they always have been. These migrant detention centers are logical evolutions of carceral capitalism, and they must be stopped.
Lasalle Correctional, a corporation founded in Louisiana, has been an “established developer and operator of correctional centers throughout the states of Louisiana, Texas and Georgia since 1997.” LaSalle holds a small percentage of national private prison stock, but here in Louisiana 25% of people held in parish prisons are in LaSalle facilities. Unlike state-run prisons, these local parish prisons often house “pre-trial” detainees and never “violent” offenders or those serving long term sentences. They are warehouse- like facilities that offer no vocational training programs. Very little of the per diem is spent on the incarcerated human. Now these same sheriffs are signing contracts with ICE to incarcerate a new population within their walls—migrants and refugees.
Some of those locked up inside RCF with experience and knowledge of “black sites” in their home countries—often run by or with participation from the CIA—have been referring to the facility in these terms. In black sites, people are held indefinitely, tortured, and hidden away from society. They are the places that people get disappeared to. We trust those enmeshed in this nightmarish system to choose the terms that most accurately describe their experience.
End the black sites now.
To connect with people coordinating detention visitations in Louisiana, email: firstname.lastname@example.org