I’ve got a story out in The New Republic‘s September issue, released online today, about the abysmal conditions at a Miami immigration detention camp called the Krome Service Processing Center. Krome claims to offer model mental health care treatment to detainees — there are unknown but large numbers of immigrants suffering from mental illness locked up at ICE camps — but I found conditions resembling the dystopian mental ward in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
I was the first journalist to get inside Krome and independently interview detainees. Krome and ICE have previously blocked entry to journalists or allowed them in with minders so detainees were not able to talk freely. There have been great reporting about the overall situation at Krome, especially by the Miami New Times and a strong story by NPR, but this is the first piece that focuses on, and punctures, ICE’s fraudulent narrative about serving as a beacon of hope for mentally ill detainees.
Here’s a lightly edited excerpt from the story:
As reports exposing the shockingly brutal conditions at immigrant detention centers have drawn comparisons to ethnic detention compounds under authoritarian regimes, it becomes ever more pressing for the country’s vast immigration bureaucracy to lean on whatever prestige it can muster at the height of the Trump border crackdown. And like everything else connected with this deranged chapter in our national nativist culture war, the present administrative charm offensive is steeped in gruesome irony: As U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) implements policies all but certain to engender lifelong trauma in detained children separated from their families at the border, it is simultaneously promoting an initiative designed to demonstrate compassion and competence toward adult detainees, particularly those diagnosed with mental illnesses. That’s right: An agency now sowing the conditions of mass traumatic stress among child detainees has been trying for years to set up shop as the caregiver of first resort for psychically traumatized undocumented immigrants.
ICE’s crown jewel in this initiative is a Miami facility called the Krome Service Processing Center, which is administered in conjunction with a host of private contractors. ICE officials have previously bragged in the press about facilities at Krome. To hear them tell it, Krome is a state-of-the-art treatment facility for immigrants (documented and otherwise), housed at its nationwide complex of more than 200 detention facilities. It provides stellar medical services, agency officials say, and especially so in the pivotal realm of immigrant mental health.
For a crown jewel, though, Krome is awfully hard to find and access, if you’re not taking part in a prearranged press junket. I went out to see conditions there in June as part of a reporting trip funded by the Project on Government Oversight. The Krome complex is in a vast dead zone on the outskirts of Miami, just on the border of the Everglades. The gigantic Dolphin Mall is nearby, as is a resort and gambling complex run by the Miccosukee Tribe, but the facility sits at the end of an unmarked road off a major freeway.
My own trip to Krome came at the behest of Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees (FOMDD), which got me inside the camp as a community member. I thus became the first journalist to get unsupervised interviews with detainees. What emerged from the visit, along with months of additional reporting, was a far darker and more sinister picture than the one painted by the Trump administration, ICE, and the immigration system’s many media enablers.
Krome, a male-only facility, is designed for 611 detainees but, numerous detainees interviewed allege, is routinely overcrowded. Most detainees are held in about a dozen “pods,” a word that has a more pleasant ring to it than “cells.” Pods are single-room, enclosed rectangular units, roughly the size of a high school gym, where detainees sleep in row after row of steel bunk beds with thin mattresses, according to multiple accounts. Fiberglass chairs are bolted to the floor. Toilets and showers offer no privacy. TVs blare in Spanish and English, and the “pods” emanate an enormous, steady din.