A letter from the Elizabeth (NJ) Immigrant Detention Center

This is a comment to an earlier posting, “ICE sued for drugging immigrant detainees while trying to deport them” , but I think it deserves its own blogpage.

A letter from the Elizabeth (NJ) Immigrant Detention Center

To Whom It May Concern.

This letter is on behalf of all the inmates at the Elizabeth (Immigrant) Detention Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  This “prison” or “detention center” is run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).  We have written this letter because of the mistreatment treatment from CCA Officers and the problems that this center has.  First of all, the CCA officers here have chosen a career working with the public.  They have an option to work here or not, and we are sure that there is no job requirement that states that they must treat people like animals as they do.  Many of the officers are obnoxious and rude.  They constantly curse at inmates and put them down.  We already have very low self-esteem because of being in custody for immigration issues; why make us feel even worse?  These officers are misusing their power.   Since we are in custody and not working, our families are having difficulty putting money in our accounts for phone cards, writing materials and, most importantly, snacks.  The

Officers who are working and receiving a paycheck come to us and ask us for chocolate bars, coffee and other snacks.  Some officers also bring their personal life to work and take their frustrations out on us.  They constantly give us and our family who come to visit us attitudes.  They sometimes abuse their power and don’t allow us to practice our religion.  Numerous times, inmates had to stop praying because an officer ordered them too.  In the middle of the night, the officers congregate in dorms, talk loud and constantly slam doors making it very uncomfortable to sleep.  They have no decency. 

Another issue here is commissary.  Everything is overpriced to the fullest extent.  For example, a radio which costs $2-$3 costs us $26 to purchase from commissary.  We are not working and our families are suffering and being torn apart because the CCA is trying to make even more money off of us!  As for the snacks, most of them are expired or soon to be expired.  Not only are we being charged more for items, but they are also expired items!  Sixty to seventy percent of the soda, chips and other snacks are already expired before we get them.  In many instances, bird droppings have been found on soup boxes and bags of chips.  They ban us from having many things, even pencils.  Those who are in criminal jails are allowed to have more things than us and WE are not criminals!  According to ICE policy for detainees, it states that the facility is required to give us writing material at no cost.  It seems that the CCA does not want to follow that rule.  They charge us for pens, paper and envelopes.  Pens cost $0.30 each, a stamped envelope costs $0.51 and a notepad costs $0.90.  What happened to writing material at no cost?

The phones here are a serious issue too.  They calls are too expensive and the lines have very poor quality.  There are only 2 phones for every 44 people.  A lot of us need to call lawyers to discuss our cases and we cannot do so because it is too expensive to make phone calls.  Local calls are so expensive; imagine how much they are charging us for international calls!  We are paying at least $20 a week just to be able to speak to our relatives or lawyers for only 10 minutes.

As for the food here, the issues vary from day to day.  The food is usually overcooked.  The trays that we are served in are not clean.  The portions are too small.  If you are still hungry, they DO NOT ALLOW you to take an extra tray.  They would rather throw out all the food than allow us to have a little more to fill us up.  If we are in visitation or religious services during meal time, they do not save any hot lunch for us, they just throw it out.  We are lucky if we are allowed to get a cold lunch when we come back from visitation. The food has no flavor and they do not give us salt and pepper.  It seems that they want us to starve.

According to immigration laws, they can hold people for 90 – 180 days, but for some reason some people have been here for years.  Some people in this facility have been here over a year.  This facility was not made to accommodate people for over a year.  There are no exercise rooms or recreational activities administered here.  An hour in a room with 3 holes in the ceiling should not count as outdoor rec.  The room is dirty and dusty.  Why are we not allowed to have fresh air?  Why are we not allowed to see the sun?  The air-conditioning system always leaks water on our beds.  We have complained many times but they never do anything about it.  Some dorms have mold growing which is not healthy for us to breath in.  Again, complaints have been made but no one does anything about it.  There have also been instances where insects were found.  We are the ones who are required to clean our dorms.  They make us clean the bathroom, shower area, toilets, mop and dust. 

Whenever inspectors, investors, or government officials come to see the facility, they make us clean more so that the rooms can be spotless.  They also treat us better in front of these people.  Little do they know, it is all a show so that their facility can pass inspection or so that they gain another investor!  There have also been times where they have shut down water in dorms for long hours.  During this time, we have no water to drink, or to wash up. Some days there is no soap for us to wash our hands or shower with.  The bathroom or dorm has no ventilation.  The bathroom is also open into the dorm.  Imagine how the room smells when people go to the bathroom!  Disgusting!  We don’t know how they clean our clothing either.  There have been many times when they return our laundry with more stains  on it, stains that weren’t there when we gave them our dirty laundry.  The razors that they give us seem to be old and reused.  They tell us that they are new but there are times where we have found hair in them before we even use them; this is hazardous to our health.  The dorms are always cold.  Now that the weather is cooler, they have not turned down the AC.  The officers walk around with jackets but as for us, we are not given that.  We are always cold, especially at night.  They do not allow us to have extra blankets to keep warm.

A major issue here is medical care.  The response time is very poor.  It takes 4 – 5 days to be admitted for medical care.  The medical facility is less than 100 feet away from the dorms, why does it take so long to get help?  The nurses have attitudes and make judgments on our health without even checking us.  It also seems that the nurses or medical staff are not trained.  They hand out the wrong medicine.  Technically this is considered malpractice which is a serious offense, but I guess that rule does not apply to us.  No matter what problem you are having, they always give you aspirin.  It seems that is the easiest way to get rid of us.  There is also no way to get dental care here at this facility.  If you have a toothache, they resort to giving us pain killers or the option of pulling out the tooth!  There was a case where a woman had so much pain from a toothache that she was constantly crying out loud and requesting help.  Instead of getting a dentist to help her, the CCA officers put her in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) which is supposed to be used for people with mental health problems or it is used as punishment for those with poor behavior.  Was she supposed to be punished for having a toothache?

We are not criminals and we do not pose any harm to anyone.  When we are taken out of the facility to go to our country’s embassy, they handcuff our hands and feet when leaving the vehicle.  This is very embarrassing for us when people look at us while we are walking from the vehicle to the building.  We are escorted through airports also wearing hand and foot cuffs, portraying us as terrorists in front of people at the airport.  People get scared when they see us and this also makes us psychologically weak and is very emotional for us.  As for being deported, there have been times where inmates have missed their flights because of CCA officers.  Detainees are kept in caged vehicles with no food or access to restrooms for 8 or 9 hours until another flight is available. 

Here at the facility, there is one television per dorm which houses 44 people.  We are not allowed to control the TV.  The CCA officers are the only ones that can change the channel.  They always keep it on Spanish TV which is unfair to many of us who speak English and are not of Spanish descent.  They restrict us to having only 3 books or magazines.  This is ridiculous.  They barely give us recreational time, what do they expect us to do during count time for 30 – 45 minutes when we must stay by our beds.  How many times can we possibly read the same 3 books or magazines?

Sometimes they allow us to work in the facility.  They pay us $1.00 a day if we work.  We can work for hours but they still only pay $1.00 a day.  Are we not even allowed to get minimum wage?  We can’t even buy a plastic cup or a safety soon with $1.00.

What about our families who come to visit us?  The visitation area only has 12 booths for the male detainees and 6 booths for female.  There are 300 detainees here, many of which are male, are 12 booths enough for them for visitation?  Sometimes there are so many people waiting outside on line to come to see us and they cannot because there is no room in visitation.  On those days, we are not given a chance to see our loved ones.  In criminal jails, they allow conjugal visits, but as for us, we pose no harm to the public, instead of granting us conjugal visits, they make us talk to our relatives through glass windows and telephones.

The biggest issue here is Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE).  People wait for months before they are told the real reasons why they are detained here.  Sometimes, deportation officers don’t show up for months to answer some of the detainee’s questions.  When we do ask questions, we are given vague answers like “YOUR CASE IS PENDING” or “BE PATIENT”.  ICE officers run away when we have questions pertaining to why were housed there, when or if we will be able to go home, or why we aren’t being given custody reviews after our 90 day period has passed.  As for information to help us, there are documents posted on walls with phone numbers and addresses to our embassies.  Many of this information has not been updated, most of the address and phone numbers are incorrect, making it impossible to get in touch with our native countries embassy. 

We are suffering here and no one wants to listen to us.  No one wants to hear what we have to say.  We cannot complain to ICE or the CCA because if we do, they treat us even worse.  The United States should be ashamed at the way they are treating us humans.  THANK YOU FOR READING TO WHAT WE HAVE TO SAY.

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21 Responses to “A letter from the Elizabeth (NJ) Immigrant Detention Center”


  1. 1 Tina Shull October 21, 2007 at 12:16 am

    Thank you for writing this letter, it was very hard for me to read. My husband was in the Elizabeth facility from May 10-July 31st before being deported and we experienced all of these things.
    I wish that these voices could be heard more strongly, because there are many Americans who care, they just are not informed.
    I will continue to share our story and yours and to show my support for every person who has to go through this. It is inhumane, a human rights violation, and illogical. Why are those with no criminal records treated worse than those who have committed real crimes?

  2. 2 Voice of Detainees October 22, 2007 at 5:37 am

    I am very sorry to hear about your husband. This is definitely an issue that we need to speak out about and let the American people know what is really happening in their own towns.

  3. 3 maria February 20, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    I totally agree with what you say in this letter.I myself have experienced some cruelty when i visit my husband. how can these people treat these immigrants as criminals. I think criminals are treated much better in prisen than these hard working individuals. My husband tells me that people have been there for years and they did nothing that involves criminal. It breaks my heart everytime i visit my husband, how can they take a hardworking person that pays taxes and has made this counyry a better place. we work very hard to have something and they take a father away from kids. my kids cry everynight asking for daddy. they ask me why the police took daddy away and they are frightened that the police will take mommy. why do i and my children have to suffer emotionally and financially. We are citizens of the USA and have rights as citizens. How can these people separate families. Do they have any sympathy. I understand if you commited a crime then you should be locked up, however if you worked all your life suppoting your family and paying taxes you deserve a chance in life. most of these peoople are not criminals they are family oriented individuals that have been separated from their loved once. Please help these people and let them be home with their loved ones expecially if they have small inicint children that need their parents.
    thank you for listening
    let’s help these people be free since USA IS A FREE COUNTRY

  4. 4 armand March 7, 2008 at 7:01 am

    I sorry you guys have to open your eyes like that. America is not a friendly nation. Please poltitians are the one telling us this the land of the free etc… Remember these so called guards are minimum wage with less than high school education that resent immigrants for making it better than they are in their ouwn country. We shall over come. Positive attitude thats all we need . God bless the little people.

  5. 5 mary July 24, 2008 at 10:21 am

    i’m sorry for all of dat my uncle is also in prison and by reading ur story i would like to do someting about it and research a little bit more about dat prison and help all the prisoners in there take them some food and blankets and many other things they can entertain them selfs. paint the walls have water fountains better facilities but i would need to research more and i will help those people. Dont worry.=)

  6. 6 nina October 19, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Reading all these letters really hurt. my uncle has been in there for about a week and a half. i live with him and his five boys and wife with my little brother who has downs syndrome. i could never ask for a better uncle. he has taught me so much and has been apart of my whole life, i could call him my father. he does not deserve to be in that disgusting place! none of those people deserve to be their! they are hardworking people and family dedicated! the only reason they came here to this land that is so called “Home of The Free”, was to give us the life they couldn’t have! i want everyone, American citizen or not, to know that the illegal immigrants in the united states abide the law better than the American citizens that were born here! they do this because they cannot risk getting caught!!! i know my uncle didn’t break any laws! he paid his taxes, kept up with all his bills, did everything an American citizen is supposed to do! no one deserves to be put in that place for no apparent reason! i hope that soon all our voices will be heard!! IMMIGRANTS MAKE THIS PLACE TO BE CALLED AMERICA! its where all cultures and traditions and religions blend into one country! i just wish that everyone would respect us for who we are and not if we have papers or not. i will pray to god that their will be no more detention centers, this is not what America is supposed to be about! thank you for reading this and may god help ur loved one that is in that horrible place!

  7. 7 Matthew Kolken February 17, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    I am currently representing an individual who was detained at the Elizabeth, N.J. Detention Center for six months before he was finally released. While in immigration custody in Elizabeth, my client was deprived of his medication despite repeated requests.

    When I visited my client in the “facility” he had visible symptoms of distress which included involuntary shivering, and listlessness, and he advised that he was suffering from severe dental pain. My client indicated that he had asked to see a dentist but considering that he had been denied his medication for approximately six months he did not believe that would ever be provided with dental care.

    I re-posted this letter on my blog, and have been making daily pleas to Senator Menendez (D-NJ) (@senatormenendez) on twitter to look into the abuses that are regularly occurring in Elizabeth.

    It is a shame that accountability and transparency are not a hallmark of the Obama administration as promised, and it is an embarrassment to the Constitution that a place like Elizabeth is allowed to exist in our Country.

    Thank you for publishing this letter, and bringing light to an important issue!

  8. 8 Maria February 24, 2010 at 11:44 am

    To all of you living the nightmare of having a loved one in a detention center, my prayers are with you. I’ve had to live it myself. It is heartbreaking to realize that this country is not the country we thought it was. It has turned as cold as their initials ICE. So many innocent children separated from their father and mother.
    Everything mentioned in the previous letters does happen and it happens in all Detention Centers. Please don’t lose hope, you are not alone. There are thousands of human beings living this nightmare. May God Bless all of you.

  9. 9 Mr Khan June 27, 2010 at 10:31 am

    I was also there and then deported. Believe me I always wanted to speak out but that real jail of so called imigration took all energy away from me so was unable to write. Now, with little energy left, I called my brother to write while I dictate to him. ALL THE CONTENTS ARE TRUE TO THE BEST OF MY BELIEF. WELLDONE FOR RAISING VOICE against the inhuman temperatures inside the detention center with just one blanket almost KILLED us from cold. We were told that it is centrally air-conditioned. Oh brother, I really know what you guys are passing through… Especially, a cool breeze is blowing near the bathing area where we were supposed to take a bath… We never saw open sky during this period… Just one guard sitting keeping everything lock… I spend 20 years in USA peacefully and paid ALL GOVT taxes with NO CRIMINAL RECORD whatso ever.. Despite this they hand cuff me like regular criminals and treated me such that it seems like a night-mare…My God …They just pick people up from streets and take to this inhuman place…They don’t even bother about the financial liabilities they carry..The rent which they have to pay…the luggage which they must carry atleast…the important documents and schools certificates which they must carry…What a pick-up…Free speach seems like a baseless quotation…

  10. 10 Khan 2 June 29, 2010 at 2:36 am

    Another aspect is that imigration should check these individual on case to case basis. Like I spent 20 years peacefully un-like most of US citizens and they simply deported me. I paid all Govt taxes and did lots of community services like closing down open manholes, cutting un-wanted tree branches which were just hinderances in traffic. However, they don’t realise any good or bad person. They just know deportation. They should think that USA is made by immigrants as there was no native person.

  11. 11 Sunny June 30, 2010 at 12:35 am

    Dear Inmates !! I was one of you. I owned many busineses like grocery stores etc in USA.However, I was deported and treated exactly as explained in your letter. No doubt it was a very hard experience. O with one blanket, I was near dying. There is a very cold temperature inside detention center. No body listened to us. The area where we were supposed to take shower is so cold that we were always sick. an inhuman atmosphere totaly against the constitution of USA. We used to think “Are we still in USA or in jail of some third world country”. I took the Help of prayers to servive. Asking God to please take me safe / alive to my loved ones. There is no tax that is un-paid from my end. I lived peacefully with NO CRIMINAL RECORD of whatsoever. Even then, always hand cuff, I used to think AM I A CRIMINAL ? My father is an honourable politician in my country and we cannot even think of any crime.We were like ambassadors of our countries there. Before being in this famour detention center, my parents used to advocate all the good systems in USA. But after my worst treatment in the center, they don’t like USA now and telling everyone to stay away from these people / country.I wonder is the higher authorities taking any action against these human rights violations inside the center or not ?
    Anyway be cool and try to take the help of prayers like me untill you get into the plane for release.
    Your well-wisher,
    Sunny.

  12. 12 Atom January 18, 2011 at 5:37 am

    4 me,I was detained 17th of June2009 is not an experience 4 one 2 go true….The sycological an depression is really 2much,,,d food is not helpin matters at all……But i dont see them treating me or any other person bad while i was there,they re’ also nice n patient people 4real guys,juz the aspect of handcuff is anoinyin n not letting u feel d natural air n sun of life..But juz remember dat America will never become as great as it is 2day if not 4 d hard working immigrant….All I can say is that Temper justice with mercy…………….

  13. 14 Nany April 11, 2011 at 7:47 am

    After Reading all this letter i have tears coming down. so sad, my husband is now 1 week in this detention center,i just hope that now 2011 things has change a lil more than what you guys whent through.
    my husband turn him self in trusting what the ice officer offered him. to let him out the same day with a ankle bracelet. well it was a lie. after a 4 hour interview my husband never came back home. here i am strugling with my two kids,spending thounsands of dollar on layers. my 3yrs old who does not stop asking for daddy. when is daddy caming home? Daddy is loco cus he left.
    i can’t even finish this letter. can’t stop crying.

    i just hope that we can win this battle and we can be a family again.

  14. 15 William Tinker April 23, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    This is all painfully familiar. I am a UK citizen, who travelled to New York for a 6 day holiday with my wife in April 2010.

    An absolute cockup by US Immigration (they claimed I’d overstayed a previous visa by years and had received orders to appear before an immigration judge, when in fact I had returned to the UK more than a year before my visa expired) resulted in me being shackled, wrists and ankles until they bruised, and driven to Elizabeth Detention Centre. I was forced to stay there 10 days, and was denied any legal representation. The treatment was exactly as you described. I really, really feel for you poor souls who are forced to spend months or years locked up there – 10 days nearly killed me.

    Trying to get answers, trying to get an apology… no luck. No one seems to care. But I do. I’ll fight your corner, as it is also my own.

  15. 16 antonio mondeja July 9, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    to whom it may concern: i , antonio mondeja, worked at the elizabeth detention center for eight years, i never saw any mistreatment of the detainees. i should know, because i was a detention officer there. you can’t mistreat them. not only is not right to mistreat human beings,the officers will get in trouble if they mistreat the detainees and risk of losing their jobs. so, how can they make up such stories about being mistreated. again, i know. i worked there for eight years as a detention officer. so no one can tell me all these lies.

  16. 17 Suria August 11, 2011 at 9:24 am

    I am 12 years old ICE ruined my life they seperated me and the most important man of my life i hate ice all they know how to do is break people apart thewy should s it there asses down and think about if it happend to them I HATE YOU ICE!

  17. 18 yaney December 4, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    i hear u. my husband is there and the rooms there r so dark and depresing and the officers are jerks. pluse the ladies who attend visitation are rude and to every1. she a spAnish speeking citizen who thinks because shes behind the counter shes worth more than i do. these places need 2 improve asap

  18. 19 yaney December 4, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    i also dislike ice they should go find some real criminals not inesent peole who want to progress. and did we all forget that this country is made up of inmigrants! but 1 day god will come 2 judge every singel 1 of us and till then lets improve the world not make it worse!

  19. 20 William Tinker May 6, 2012 at 2:33 am

    Still trying to get some sort of justice regarding this. No one seems willing – where mistakes are made the U.S. authorities sweep them under the carpet and pretend everything is fine.

    Human Rights abuses aren’t ‘fine’.


  1. 1 www.learnhypnosiseasily.info » A letter from the Elizabeth (NJ) Immigrant Detention Center Trackback on October 17, 2007 at 6:54 am

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