PINE PRAIRIE, La. (KLFY) The Pine Prairie Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, Processing Facility in Evangeline Parish is under fire.

Over a dozen civil rights groups have recently filed federal complaints.

The civil rights groups are calling on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to investigate and shut down the Pine Prairie Ice facility.

They say the detainees don’t have access to clean water and food, and when the detainees voice their concerns, they’re forced into solitary confinement for weeks at a time.

On top of that, the civil rights groups say the Pine Prairie Ice facility is using solitary confinement to isolate detainees with symptoms of COVID-19.

“Hey, that’s against the law. Y’all can’t be doing that. Back the f*** up,” one protester said during a protester at the ICE facility in August 2020 while law enforcement began pepper-spraying dozens of protesters outside of the facility.

“They tried to chase us out of here. They tried to tell us we were not allowed to assemble, and we assembled anyway. We got tear gassed and punched for doing so,” another protester told News Ten at the 2020 protest.

The protesters outside the ice facility said they were protesting the inhumane living conditions detainees were suffering.

Inside the ice facility, detainees were on hunger strike, protesting their living conditions.

“Pine prairie threw all of those [detainees], over 45 people, in solitary confinement as a result to their peaceful protest,” Sarah Decker, an attorney with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Group, told News Ten.

Decker says the ICE facility has a long history of misusing use solitary confinement, but the problem has only gotten worse with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Instead of providing people with correct mental health and medical care, they’re just separating them from the general population in punitive solitary confinement,” she said. “According to the United Nations, punitive solitary confinement for longer than 15 days is considered torture, so of the clients that we spoke to, I would say at least three quarters of them had been subjected to solitary confinement for longer than that 15-day threshold, which means they were subjected to torturous conditions by ICE.”

She says anytime detainees voiced their concerns about their living conditions, they were thrown into solitary confinement. 

One detainee said he was thrown into solitary confinement for 45 days over six different times.
“He would complain about the lack of access to hand sanitizer, lack of access to paper towels, cleaning solution. He is an English speaker, so he would also translate the complaints of his fellow immigrants who were with him in his pod. As a response to his constant complaining, he was repeatedly thrown in solitary confinement as a form of retaliation by ICE personnel at Pine Prairie.”

Decker also says their clients who contracted COVID-19 while inside the ice facility were thrown into solitary confinement to isolate them from other detainees.

“He was placed in solitary confinement for 15 days and did not have regular access to medical care or even ibuprofen, even though he had chest pain, tightness, and breathing problems. So he was still actively experiencing the effects of COVID-19 and was in a solitary confinement cell,” she said.

Decker’s civil rights group is one of over a dozen groups who have recently filed complaints against the ICE facility to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

They’re asking D.H.S. to investigate the Pine Prairie ICE facility and shut them down.

“This is a field office that has shown time and time again that it cannot properly care for human beings and should not be able to detain people and be responsible for their health,” Decker said.

News Ten did reach out to GEO Group, the private prison company who operates the Pine Prairie ICE facility, about these allegations.

GEO Group provided News Ten with the following statement.

“We strongly reject these allegations, that are advanced by radical special interest groups with a politically-motivated agenda. For more than three decades, under both democratic and republican administrations, we have been a trusted service provider to the federal government, providing consistent, high-quality services at all our facilities.

The Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center provides high-quality services, including round-the-clock access to medical care, a legal orientation program and free telephone calls to attorneys, three meals daily based on nutritional menus approved by a registered dietician, clean water, personal hygiene products, personal protective equipment, and recreational amenities. The center operates in accordance with ICE’s performance-based detention standards, including those related to the use of special management units and due process of law. Under no circumstances is assignment in a special management unit used in a retaliatory manner or without careful adherence to ICE’s performance-based national detention standards.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken robust measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, including increased cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas; access to facemasks for all detainees; isolation and quarantine procedures for positive and symptomatic cases consistent with CDC guidelines; and social distancing measures, including the communication of social distancing obligations and requirements via meetings, memos, and postings, and the deployment of floor markers to inform and encourage social distancing.

Additional information on these measures can be found here