Immigration and Customs Enforcement Improves Access to Detention Centers

Pin It

New policy allows broad access to monitor conditions of immigration detention.

The Women’s Refugee Commission has long called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to facilitate easier access to immigration detention centers and to allow organizations to interview detainees without pre-authorized approval. In September 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) finally announced a new policy allowing access for any organization that wishes to tour a detention center and interview detainees there. Our longstanding advocacy was critical in bringing about this policy change.

Touring detention centers and interviewing immigrant detainees are essential to our work in advocating for reform and directly inform our efforts to ensure compliance with detention standards. Our visits to the facilities allow us to monitor operations and listen to the personal experiences of immigrant detainees, helping us identify serious gaps in the upholding of detention standards and the lack of oversight that exists both on a national and local level. Our visits also help us identify the best practices that could be replicated elsewhere and that should be developed into new detention standards.

The Women’s Refugee Commission’s follow up with local facilities and ICE headquarters has often led to immediate, concrete changes in conditions for detainees. We document our visits with extensive note-taking and submit in writing our observations. It is particularly important to identify circumstances in which a facility did not meet the very basic ICE detention standards. In addition, minor improvements are often made especially in preparation for a tour or visit. Even if these improvements are temporary, they result in real and concrete benefits to those detained. Over time, they may lead to a culture change and become more standardized.

ICE’s new policy means that any organization may now more easily access an ICE facility in order to speak with detainees and monitor conditions at the facility and to see whether or not it is in compliance with national standards. If you or your organization is interested in visiting an ICE facility, here are a few resources to get you started.

How to Request a Visit to and/or Tour of an ICE Detention Facility

Please note that these procedures and this policy are primarily intended for organizations wishing to access a facility for monitoring. Legal service providers who have existing partnerships for Know Your Rights presentations or Legal Orientation Programs, as well as visitation groups who regularly visit with detainees, should not have any change in access due to this policy.

At least 14 days prior to your planned visit, you must submit the following to the Public Advocate Field Liaison. Click here for contact information.

for contact information.

  1. The type of visit you wish to make (a tour, visitation with detainees, or both)
  2. A brief description of the purpose of your visit
  3. Three options of dates and times that would work for your tour/visit
  4. Background information for each visitor as required by the facility (e.g. Name, Date of Birth, Driver’s License Number, etc.)
  • The following completed forms:
  1. Tour/Visit Notification Flyer (includes sign-up sheet)
  2. Signed ICE Visitor Code of Conduct form for each stakeholder participant
  3. Copy of the consent form
  4. NOTE: any reports or materials that you would like to distribute to detainees must be submitted ahead of the tour and pre-approved for distribution.

What to Keep in Mind: Ethics and Confidentiality

Detention center visits can be difficult and traumatizing experiences, both for the visitor and for the detainee being interviewed. Before requesting to interview detainees we strongly urge you to keep in mind your reasons for talking to a detainee and what you will do with the information you hear.

  • Employ sensitivity. Always explain the purpose of your visit clearly and with compassion to a detainee. Many immigrants need legal representation and will hope and think that this is what you are providing. If your visit is for another reason, make sure the detainee understands what the information he or she provides you will be used for.
  1. The Women’s Refugee Commission often presents copies of our reports to illustrate our work and our inclusion of detainee stories in our advocacy. When permitted, we leave these reports with detainees. If you have examples of the ways in which their stories will be used, you should leave these materials as well.
  2. Allow the detainee the space and opportunity to stop an interview at any time.
  3. Notice if someone is uncomfortable talking to you even if they say otherwise.
  • Informed Consent is critical. After explaining the purpose of your visit and how the information will be used (if at all), ensure that a detainee gives consent to speak with you and gives you permission for any way in which you plan to use the information. See below for a sample consent form.
  • Make it clear that you will maintain confidentiality. Explain that you will never repeat a detainee’s name, always use a pseudonym and never reveal any information (for example, a unique country of origin that would help others narrow down the detainee you met with) that could be used to identify a detainee.


When touring a detention facility, take time to understand the standards against which that facility is inspected to better inform the questions you ask. You can learn more about individual facilities here.

Important Links

tags: Detention