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What to expect in immigration detention centers

Updated June 7, 2024

What to expect in immigration detention centers

Most people in immigration detention are in some form of removal proceedings. Law enforcement will keep you in place and you will have to follow strict rules until they decide on your case. This is called being in DHS or CBP custody. The place you are kept will either be a U.S. Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility.

If you are taken by CBP or ICE, stay calm. For your safety, it is important to respect the authorities:

  • Follow instructions
  • Do not argue, struggle, or resist
  • Do not tell lies or show false documents
  • Always keep your hands where the agent can see them

Your rights while detained

It is important to know your rights with U.S. Border Patrol and ICE.

  • You have the right to remain silent and to speak to an attorney.
  • You do not have to sign anything before speaking to an attorney.
  • You have the right to a telephone call to speak to a family member.
  • Border Patrol and CBP officers are not allowed to use physical or verbal abuse, intimidation tactics, or make threats against you.

Detention facilities

Conditions and treatment in detention facilities can be very different based on where you are. You will likely:

  • Go through an initial processing procedure that includes having your fingerprints and photograph taken.
  • Be detained in shared or individual cells or dormitory-style rooms. Men and women could be separated.
  • Have limited freedom of movement and are not allowed to leave the facility.
  • Be provided with basic necessities such as bedding, toiletries, and meals.
  • Have access to medical care. Sometimes this may be limited.

There have been cases of human rights abuse and poor conditions. It is important to understand your rights and to seek legal help if you or someone you know is being detained.

Helpful information while detained

If you are trying to seek help while detained, have the following information ready to share if you have access to a phone: 

  • Your full name
  • Alien Number (assigned to you after immigration officers process you)
  • Date of birth
  • Country of birth
  • What city you are located in
  • Whether you are detained by ICE or border patrol 

An officer at the detention center can tell you where to find your Alien Number, what city you are in, and if ICE or Border Patrol runs the detention center. All this information is helpful for your loved ones or legal counsel to locate you.

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We aim to offer easy to understand information that is updated regularly. This information is not legal advice.

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