A CNN investigation published on Thursday revealed the dismal conditions in which around a third of the 70 detainees detained in Tucson, Arizona, since mid-October were held.
The detainees, most of whom are Mexican nationals, were told by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) that they were ordered removed from the country and were “awaiting a booking process to begin”.
But pictures taken inside the facility showed that most were held in makeshift tents with no bedding, no showers and almost no toilet facilities.
Ice is part of the Department of Homeland Security and operates detention centres around the country, including in Texas, California and Arizona.
According to CNN’s investigation, the plants were overflowing and covered in cockroaches and rats. The interior has virtually no ventilation, and smoke often fills the cell.
Griselda Betancourt, a 40-year-old mother of five children, told CNN she was arrested after trying to leave her native Guatemala to join her daughter.
“They arrested me on 10 October. They called my daughter, told her I’d be deported, but I don’t know,” she said.
Betancourt spent 30 days at the Tucson facility, during which time she did not get a shower, despite pleading for one.
Sherry Diaz, a 33-year-old US citizen, said she was arrested in Houston on 4 October by Ice officials who accused her of using a fake ID.
“I took that ID, and showed it to them, because my name is Sonia Rene Hernandez and I was driving in Houston. They saw I had the ID and took me to the next room,” she said.
Diaz said she was given a glass poncho to wear over her cuffed hands, and that she spent three weeks in the tent at Ice custody. “I suffered a lot, because I wasn’t able to sleep in the house,” she said.
One detainee, 31-year-old Elvio Martinez, is in the US illegally from Mexico and was arrested after being cut off from his son during a traffic stop, CNN reported.
“I feel tired from being tired. I’m getting sick and I have trouble breathing and I feel dizzy, and I can’t sleep at night because I feel like sleeping, but I don’t sleep,” he said.
Prior to being held in Arizona, the detainees had been transported from the Tornillo facility in Texas. They were then detained in Arizona for processing.
Diaz had previously provided information to Ice investigators when her sister was facing deportation in a different part of the country. But the agency said it had deleted that information from her file after she was arrested.
Elvio Martinez had also provided information to Ice investigators when he was charged with illegally re-entering the US.
“I want the public to know that I didn’t give them any information. And, if I was there, if I was the person who said, ‘Look, I’m not guilty,’ I will come forward. But I don’t know who said that or what happened with that,” Martinez said.
Fox News reports that Ice officials have argued that the conditions at the detention facility were “good quality facilities, fairly distributed around the country,” and that it was also offered to relocate the detainees to detention centres at jails in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, but all refused.
Ice confirmed that the women had been moved to other locations, but did not say where.