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Tara Kadioglu/MEDILL

Rashed BinRashed talks about his time at Tri-County Detention Center, which a report recently named among the nation's worst. He wanted to meet at his local library on the South Side, because while he was detained, he missed being able to read a good book.

Illinois immigrant prison named one of 10 worst in U.S., report says

by Tara Kadioglu
Nov 29, 2012

Tara Kadioglu/MEDILL

Rashed BinRashed addresses aspects of his detention experience at Tri-County.

Rashed BinRashed repeatedly describes his 18 months at Tri-County immigrant prison as “a zoo.”

“I remember at some point thinking I wouldn’t wish this for my worst enemy, just the whole treatment itself,” said BinRashed, a Yemeni refugee, held in the facility from 2006 to 2008.

A report this month named the 215-detainee facility in downstate Ullin as one of the 10 worst United States immigrant prisons. The report said the location more than 300 miles and six hours from Chicago “isolates immigrants from the outside world and restricts access to legal counsel.” It also asserted there was inadequate oversight and medical services, abuse, overcrowding and understaffing.

The National Immigrant Justice Center, a Chicago legal-services nonprofit that represented BinRashed, evaluated Tri-County for the report, which is part of the national Detention Watch Network’s “Expose and Close” campaign to show conditions in the scores of detention centers across the country.

The report says the facility should be closed because of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “failure to hold the facility accountable and the ongoing human rights and due process violations at the facility.”

ICE holds detainees in a mix of federal detention centers, county jails it has contracts with and centers owned by private companies. ICE contracts with the Tri-County Jail in Pulaski County to detain immigrants, but Tri-County contracts with a private company, Paladin Eastside Psychological Services, Inc. to run the jail. It is the only Illinois immigration detention center that contracts with a private company, although the Joliet City Council is in discussions with ICE to open Illinois’s first detention facility owned by a major corporation.

Phone messages left with Paladin went unreturned. Gayla Jones, Tri-County jail’s contract monitor, said the jail has no press or media representative, and that all media inquiries are deferred to ICE.

“ICE doesn’t really make any meaningful effort to oversee that facility, or to address some of the issues that we’ve raised,” Tidwell-Cullen said. “We hope the administration takes meaningful steps to stop human rights violations in the system.”

ICE’s Chicago spokeswoman Gail Montenegro said she would not answer questions on the report or on Tri-County. However, she e-mailed a press release that says ICE “is in the process of fully reviewing the reports,” and “has offered to meet with the authors of the report.”

The ICE statement said “it is disappointing that the reports appear to be built primarily on anonymous allegations that cannot be investigated or substantiated, and many second hand [sic] sources and anecdotes that pre-date the agency’s initiation of detention reform.”

Tidwell-Cullen said, “Our response to ICE’s statement is that we have raised the issues cited in the Tri-County report numerous times with ICE at both the local and national level.”

“For many of the cases, we actually brought them to ICE with names attached because we were advocating on behalf of a particular client. So while many of the individuals who shared their stories asked to remain anonymous for the purposes of the report, ICE was informed of their situations when they arose.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) efforts to investigate the facility added credibility to the findings, Tidwell-Cullen said.

While Durbin’s office did not respond to phone messages seeking comment, the report says Durbin visited the facility earlier this year, then raised concerns about broken phones at an April 2012 oversight hearing for the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Department of Homeland Security.

ICE’s statement says it has made significant reforms, including the creation of a toll-free hotline for individual concerns and the establishment of new 2011 detention standards that aim to “improve medical and mental health services, increase access to legal services and religious opportunities, improve communication with detainees with limited English proficiency, improve the process for reporting and responding to complaints, and increase recreation and visitation.”

While ICE and the justice center debate, perhaps on the cusp of real dialogue, BinRashed continues to talk about his experience at Tri-County prior to the reforms.

BinRashed echoed the report complaint that oversight at Tri-County was minimal. He said ICE officers visited the two other detention centers he was held in -- Dodge County jail in Wisconsin and McHenry County jail in Illinois -- once a month to review detainees’ living conditions and answer their questions. But at Tri-County, “In my year and a half in there, I think they had one guy come in,” he said.

He said the officer was not from the main regional field office in Chicago, but from one of the region’s other offices in Kentucky.

“I remember everybody just rushing to him, asking him questions about cases,” he said, adding many people were months “in limbo” of not knowing the status of their cases.

He also said the report was correct about overcrowding.
"There were times when it was so overcrowded," he said. "They had detainees in the library just laying there."

But he also acknowledged some good things about Tri-County. He was able to observe Muslim holidays and free to roam his pod area at night.

BinRashed came to the United States as an asylee from Yemen, where his family escaped political persecution for opposition to the government. His application was accepted — on the false premise that he was a Somali, which he said he wrote down on advice that ICE favored Somali applicants over Yemenis.

He won his asylum case last year, and applied for his Social Security card a few days ago. But he said he now drives more carefully than he did before he was detained. His detention happened because he was pulled over for a broken taillight, leading a police officer to investigate his immigration status and discover his inaccurate paperwork.