Thoughts of suicide, hours of confinement and denial of medical care are among the complaints outlined in new federal court documents from immigration detainees being held at the Sheridan Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon.
“I feel bad. I get depressed. I have thought about taking my life because I had never been locked up,” said one detainee, identified in court documents as ICE Detainee No. 3.
On Wednesday, Oregon's federal public defender filed five habeas corpus petitions on behalf of people held at Sheridan, asking a federal judge to release some of the more than 100 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at the facility.
The petitions provide new details and descriptions from the immigration detainees themselves about the conditions they’ve experienced inside the federal prison since arriving seven weeks ago. The men were arrested as part of tougher immigration enforcement standards being promoted by the Trump administration.
“I have three other people in my cell,” ICE Detainee No. 3 said. “We have to put up with the bad smell because the cell is small and the toilet is right next to my bed. They give us our meals there and we have to eat there, next to the toilet.”
A declaration filed by William Teesdale, chief investigator with the Federal Public Defender’s Office, said several immigration detainees had untreated medical conditions.
“Detainees reported heart problems, a gunshot wound, a broken leg, rashes, allergic reactions and severe sore throats,” Teesdale wrote in the court documents. “Detainees reported trying to tell the prison guards about their medical concerns, but being unable to communicate adequately in English.”
Teesdale said he later translated written statements from detainees who wanted to remain anonymous.
“We were held in our cells as prisoners,” wrote one unidentified detainee included in Teesdale’s court filing. “We were very sad. We felt as if we are stuck on an island in sea and we cannot tell and ask anything from anyone. Sometimes I cried, but no one listened. We are getting crazy by the way we were kept locked. Sometimes I feel like dying. It felt like everything is over and I should commit suicide. I was very sad. I have lost all hope of getting out of here.”
Another unnamed detainee described his detention this way:
“When we were chained, I was shocked that was what has happened. We saw criminals in jail and we were astonished that there were criminals of all type in the jail. We lived here in fear all the time.”
Teesdale wrote that at least 20 of the detainees were between 18 and 20 years old.
In court documents, detainees also expressed concerns about bad food that didn’t meet religious and dietary needs, as well as their inability to meaningfully practice their religion in the prison.
“We have not been given the right food,” wrote a detainee identified in court documents as ICE Detainee No. 2. “It is over seven days today and we are in the same dress. Our complete day passes in a small room and we are unable to understand why they have kept us here.”
More than 120 ICE detainees were brought to the Sheridan prison May 31, effectively doubling the facility’s population with just one day’s notice to prison officials.
In June, ICE announced it was transferring 1,600 immigrants awaiting deportation hearings to federal prisons in five states, including California, Oregon and Washington. At the time, the agency said a surge in border crossings combined with a new federal policy to prosecute anyone crossing the border illegally created the need for more beds.
At Sheridan, most immigration detainees are claiming asylum and have not appeared before any judge, according to attorneys who have met with the men.
The detainees are from 16 countries. Diversity among the men has created language barriers, making it difficult to communicate, attorneys have said.
“Detainees continue to express distress at their indefinite incarceration despite the improvements. I have heard reports that a detainee attempted suicide; that religious head wear is not accommodated; and medical care is inadequate,” Teesdale wrote.
“I know that the detainees continue to be housed behind barbed wire, sleep in small cells near open toilets, are clothed in federal prison garb, and are subject to rules that allow strip searches, lockdown in cells and shackling. Some ICE detainees reportedly have been moved into segregated housing cells.”
On Monday, an ICE spokeswoman said four detainees were transferred from Sheridan to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, “to provide specialized medical care.”
Last month, a federal judge signed an order that allowed immigration attorneys access to the detainees. For weeks, prison officials and ICE denied access. The judge also required phones to get installed with translation services so the men could speak with attorneys.
In addition to the phones, Teesdale noted some conditions have gotten better for detainees since they first arrived, namely, more time of out their cells and food that has started to include vegetarian items.
Still, detainees say they’ve suffered.
“In the first few weeks we were held here, the guards did not let us go outside at all,” wrote a man identified in court papers at ICE Detainee No. 5. “My skin was getting so pale and my body was feeling so weak.”
Detainee No. 5 also said that at one point the guards made him take off his clothes for an entire day.
“We were left in boxers and a T-shirt for the whole day,” he wrote. “They did not tell us the reason for why all of us were stripped. In the night, it gets so cold in the cell and when I was in boxers and T-shirt, I was terribly cold.”
Detainee No. 5 said he was also “forced to swallow five or six small white pills” but the guards didn’t say what the medication was. “If I don't swallow them, I am very afraid that the guards will punish me, and that it might affect my case.”