The Trump Administration Is Preventing Detained Immigrants From Practicing Their Religion

Amid the chaos of family separations and zero-tolerance policies being implemented at our borders, Immigration and Customs Enforcement decided in early June to begin transferring immigrants to prisons operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Their appalling treatment in these prisons reveals, yet again, the depraved cruelty of this administration toward immigrants. 

On Wednesday, with our co-counsel partners — the Prison Law Office and the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center — we sued the Trump administration, ICE, and the BOP for violating the constitutional rights of immigrants currently detained at one of those federal prisons in Victorville, California. We are asking the court to order ICE to immediately remedy the unlawful conditions and ultimately remove immigrants from the prison. 

The Victorville prison is in a remote location in the California desert, two hours outside of Los Angeles, far from community support and legal services. It is an enormous complex of concrete buildings surrounded by fencing and barbed wire. The immigrant men who are detained there wear orange and brown prison jumpsuits, but most have not been convicted of, or even charged with, a crime. They are merely seeking relief under U.S. immigration laws — as is their legal right. 

Their movement is highly restricted. They are detained two to a cell, confined indoors for most of the day with little opportunity for exercise or exposure to sunlight. Their “meals” are often inedible: spoiled milk and meat that is infested with worms and maggots. The food is nowhere near adequate to sustain them. 

When they arrived at Victorville, the detained immigrants were not provided a change of uniform or underwear for several weeks. Some recount how they had to wash their underwear in the toilet in their cell with a small bar of soap that was also to be used for washing themselves. 

Medical and mental health needs are ignored, an especially dangerous situation for those who have fled persecution or torture in their home countries. Poor hygiene and medical neglect are so extreme that there have been outbreaks of chickenpox and scabies. When the men try to seek medical help, they are often dismissed, mocked, and verbally abused by staff who threaten them with isolation and other punishment. 

Communication with the outside world is severely limited. The men do not have access to legal materials, and the most basic information is provided solely in English, a language that the majority of the men do not speak. They were only allowed to consult with attorneys after the ACLU of Southern California won a court order granting access to the detainees. 

As if these conditions were not appalling enough, prison officials have denied the men one of the few things that might bring them some comfort or peace of mind: the ability to practice their faith. Victorville officials have refused to provide religious services or other opportunities for group worship and prayer. By policy, the men are not allowed to worship outside of their cells. Prison officials also have not provided meals that fully comport with their religious beliefs, forcing them to eat food that violates their faith or go hungry. 

Officials confiscated immigrants’ religious items, including religious clothing and holy books. For example, Sikh immigrants had their turbans taken. They have not been able to regain access to them or obtain replacements, even though wearing a turban is one of Sikhism’s most sacred religious practices. Another immigrant had his Bible seized and has likewise been unable to procure a replacement. These violations of religious rights persist, even though the BOP’s and ICE’s own regulations recognize the right to engage in these religious practices. 

Let’s be clear: No one — not even those convicted of crimes — should be subject to these shocking conditions of confinement. Many of the men report that they feel depressed and that they never expected that this could happen in America. The situation is so dire that some have engaged in self-harm, while others simply abandon their legal claims because the abuse is too much to endure. 

Despite all that these people have gone through, an ICE agent told one of our clients "to think of Victorville like a hotel."  

But the problem isn’t limited to Victorville. At the Sheridan Federal Detention Center in Oregon, another BOP facility, immigrants likewise suffer from lack of access to counsel and other unconstitutional conditions, which are being challenged by the ACLU of Oregon and the Federal Public Defender. The ACLU and ACLU of Oregon filed a brief on Wednesday with the Oregon federal district court, supporting a request for an emergency order directing prison officials to allow the immigrants incarcerated at Sheridan to practice their religion while they are confined. 

The men at the Victorville and Sheridan prisons are detained under an agreement between ICE and the BOP, allowing for the detention of 1,600 immigrants in BOP facilities in Washington state, Oregon, California, Arizona, and Texas. While ICE uses its own network of prisons and jails to detain immigrants, the move to transfer immigrants to BOP facilities at this level is unprecedented.      

Before these transfers started, federal prisons like Victorville were used to incarcerate those who have been convicted of crimes — and the BOP did a poor job of that. Over the years, the Victorville prison has been plagued by a number of problems, including understaffing that has led to dangerous conditions for those incarcerated there. 

BOP officials themselves have acknowledged that the situation in these facilities is untenable. Some BOP employees have reported that they were not provided adequate notice that hundreds of immigrants would be transferred to BOP facilities, which were unprepared to handle a sudden influx of people or the particular needs of this population. While reports initially indicated that the use of federal prisons for immigrant detention was a temporary, 120-day arrangement, the contracts between ICE and BOP will last a year. 

The harm resulting from such imprisonment is profound. Many of the immigrants detained at Victorville and Sheridan may suffer medical and mental health effects years or even decades after they are released. 

None of this had to happen. 

Like the Trump administration’s family separation and zero-tolerance policies, these transfers were made in reckless haste, with no regard for the well-being and lives of the immigrants who are detained. President Trump and ICE might not care about them, but we do. 

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Totalitarianism happens when people people like you choose to believe in an altered reality, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Just refer to the history of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia—they too refused to believe that such things as detention centers or concentration camps existed. It’s easy to fashion a reality that fits our own twisted desires; it’s much harder to actually think. People who refuse to think, who refuse to accept reality, are complicit in the demise of the rights of man. Remember, evil only triumphs when good people remain apathetic and are content to ignore truth.

Joseph Blalock

Y’all fight for the rights of people who are not protected under our constitution to begin with! Medical care? You fucking kidding me! I’ve got a son with a serious digestive disease that is not getting medical treatment! Why aren’t you fighting for him? Not on Soros’ agenda huh! You people only care about the lefts agenda and could care less about America and the hard working people that make this country great! Get a real job

Dr. Timothy Leary

If it wasn't for the A.C.L.U. Mr. Blalock we would not have Labor Day. It would still be National Pickled Herring Day. Pickled herring, yuck!

David Frederick

Our constitution protects all “people” — not just all “citizens” — within the United States. “We the People,” etc. Specific amendments do refer to “citizens,” but broadly speaking, it provides legal shelter to anyone who sets foot in this country. If you don’t like that, go ahead and try to change the constitution.


It's the left that's fighting for healthcare not the republicans.they want it to go back to the way insurance companies charge what they want.your son would never be insured for he has a prexsiting condition.what we need is Medicare for all.THE insurance companies only care about profits.our health and lives don't matter only their bottom line.I'm sorry for your sons condition


I am sorry about your son, but you need to do a little research (and it should not take much searching to find out) which political party in this country is trying to kick people off what health care program they have and make it harder/more expensive. Your son has a pre-existing condition and it is the Republican state attorneys-general who are suing to get the requirement removed from the ACA that people with pre-existing conditions must be covered by insurance. There are 20 of those attorneys-general who have filed this suit and Sessions has made it clear that the federal govt. will not contest it.

Phoebe Henselpecker

Hey Joe! First off, I truly am sorry that your son has a serious medical condition. It must be awful for you to be unable to get treatment for him, and for him suffering with no hope of medical care...I'm sorry for all that you're going through. I hope he will get the care he needs. Now, a couple of unashamedly progressive points I need to make... My (perhaps erroneous) guess is that you voted for the current president and his administration. Great job! No more Affordable Care...for you, your son, or any of us. Damn, it must feel good to have accomplished that! And now the pre-existing conditions expense of his insurance could once again follow him forever. And, you know what, Joe? I didn't cause that, because I didn't vote for your savior. Nope, you've all been making America "great again" all by yourselves. Guess y'all have to hunker down and try to find a way that you can blame us for that. Believe it or not, I do care about America; I used to feel so proud of her, and for who/what I thought we all were. Turns out it was a lie---you know, the "all [men] created equal" thing. It's always been a given for me, and everyone I know, to be "hard-working people." I'm well past retirement, still working...trying to do my part to help people, whether they agree with me or not. Yep---a real job! One I had to scrape and save to pay off the necessary education to have. One I had to spend lots and lots of time studying to do, while working fulltime to afford the schooling. Turns out the "hard working people that make this country great" aren't just conservatives--it's all of us. And, since you obviously care a lot for your son, I'm sure it's not at all hard for you to imagine the heartbreak of parents whose "crime" of seeking asylum (which, just in case you're interested in learning something new IS a protected right here) leads to them and their children being treated worse than the America I thought I lived in would ever have thousands and thousands of children and their parents being seriously scarred for life. Good luck to you, Joe...and god help us all as we all drown in the right's version of the swamp.


Oh it has to be approved which mine won’t! Cowards


Thank you for this research. Keep the good job of informing us of the injustices committed against human beings, the world needs to know.
One good thing about the negative comments below is that, those who wrote them at least tried to read the article. It is in their minds and will keep bugging the little humanity in them that is somewhere hidden in their poor souls.


Thank you for fighting for these immigrants.


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