2014 Journey of Immigrant Delegation: Notes on Tour of Pearsall Facility


(One component of a delegation experience entitled The Journey of an Immigrant, Co-produced for May 2014 by Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, Inc.  and Women on the Border, Inc.

Date of Tour:  May 16, 2014.

(The following information is based on the notes of Whitney Devin, delegation co-leader and does not represent a complete description or analysis of the problems with the immigration detention system.  As co-leader with Elvia Arriola, (WOB, Inc.) Ms. Devin gathered notes soon after the delegation weekend and some of the information is based on conversations among delegates following the tour and brief face-to-face meetings (90 minutes) with approximately 58 detainees.

 There were twelve (12) members to the Journey of an Immigrant delegation who qualified after extensive vetting by DOH officials for touring the facility.  All were U.S. citizens of varying ages and professions or careers, including education, university studies, faith-based activists and two retired senior citizens.

“[…] because in here, only God listens” – a detainee expressing gratitude for our visit




  • 1,851 beds (usually 1,830-1,840 occupancy)
  • 1,698 population on day of visit after flight to Honduras that morning
  • 236,000 square feet
  • 3 judges and 1 videoconference room are generally open and operating from 8:30AM-5PM every day
  • Population makeup is mostly Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras
  • 13,000 individuals deported from facility in 2013 fiscal year
    • 47 per day average
  • 23,000 men were “booked” in 2013 FY
  • 8,000 transferred to other facilities
  • 135 individuals on each flight out of US
  • 400 credible fear hearings each day


Medical services data:


  • 2RN, 7PA, 2MD, 2 Dentists, 1 Pharmacist
  • 60-70 full time medical staff
  • 17,000 prescriptions provided (2013)
    • given 2 week supply of prescriptions upon exit
  • 5,985 dental appointments (2013)
    • If detained for more than 6 months, will get routine dental check up




The tour started in a conference room with two ICE officials and one uniformed GeoServices guard. The lecture was primarily given by Officer Randall Henderson (DOH/ICE).  We were given an overview of the facility and had the opportunity to ask questions. Below are some points from this conversation:


  • Transgender individuals kept in separate area of the facility (space that was women’s segregation units – doors are kept open to common area)
  • LGBT have options available for safety (“we are required to keep them safe”)
  • When answering questions about legal charges faced by those who have entered repeatedly, the ICE official responded: “Actually it’s a criminal act the first time but Dept of Justice (DOJ) can’t keep up.”
    • Second+ unauthorized entry sets individual in same category as other non-violent criminal offenders
  • Del Rio Pilot Project – 100% detained are prosecuted and processed at the border (rather than voluntary departure/catch and release). They are provided legal representation.
  • DOJ and DHS communication issues due to computer system being down for several months


We were then taken on a walking tour of the facility that included the following areas: detainee intake, medical services, soccer field, library and computer lab, one dormitory, and courtroom hallway.


“This facility does have the chickenpox…” – Our “welcome!” to begin the tour…


Intake area: there was an incoming group who had both their hands and feet tied, one man was in a room alone (it was explained he may have TB), another room with a toilet in the corner was filled with a group that was already processed (they were holding a bag with their belongings)


Medical area: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Health Service Corps (IHSC) – a division of public health services is a uniformed service but civilian (falls under fed gov’t)


Recreation: 1 hour every 2-3 days on soccer fields (1-2 dorms on field at once); can go to small concrete rec yard that is attached to dorm every day


Dorm: open air restrooms with no doors on stalls; one small room where detainees can assemble privately (glass door)


Library/Computer: computers access Lexis Nexis Law; lab was empty but guide claimed it is usually full; religious books are free


Jobs: $1/day (ICE) or $3/day (Geogroup)


Overall Information compiled from various delegates’ notes:


  • Countries of origin: Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti, Kongo, Romania, Peru, Iraq, Venezuela, Ecuador [by second hand: Bangladesh, China, Somalia, Belize]
  • Length of stay: 2 days – 2 years
  • Age: 18 years – 52+ years
  • Detainees’ family located in following US states: NY, GA, TX, AZ, IN, LA, NC, CA, FL, NJ



Psychological impact: frustration, isolation, feeling sub-human, confusion due to lack of information, severe anxiety


Journey and/or arrival: many complaints about the initially capture and processing: detainees are held in “hieleras” (ice boxes) (rooms kept at chilling temperatures) ; abuse in ways they are caught at border; kidnapping, assault on the journey and violence while traveling through Mexico


Motivations for migration: Escaping extortion, extreme poverty and economic despair, fear for safety, threats by organized crime,  violence to self and/or families


Abuse/Mistreatment: Detainees are systematically forced to sign forms only in English, unable to communicate with family, guard’ special treatment or mistreatment, general lack of respect; treated like criminals.


As a group, the delegation also wanted to highlight the absurd practice of detaining a particular individual who had already established  deep community ties in this country,  who has proven to be rehabilitated and/or has complied with all court requirements nearly a decade after a qualifying charge. Furthermore, the arbitrary and exorbitant bond amounts assigned to upstanding legal residents creates additional barriers in their case and further impacts the well being of dependent family members residing in this country.




  1. A 34-year-old US resident who was brought from Mexico to the US by his parents at 3 months old. He has not returned to Mexico since moving here as an infant but faces deportation due to an assault charge in his 20s. He was not told the charge would affect his immigration status and claims he acted in self-defense but has no evidence because the event was so many years ago. He expressed deep feelings of outrage and humiliation with the system. A loving boyfriend to a pregnant girlfriend, he provides for her and her two adopted children by working for an oil company in Corpus Christi.


  1. Incomplete sample: Kidnapped and dumped, then held in icebox, victim of attempted rape while in detention (stopped by guards).  More notes to be gathered from other delegates’ notes.


Writer, attorney, Lawprof Emerita from Northern Illinois University.
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