Let Us In: An Argument for the Right to Visitation in U.S. Immigration Detention

  • Christina M. FialhoEmail author


Since the creation of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2003, approximately 2.5 million individuals have passed through ICE detention facilities in a network of over 250 jails and private prisons. Men, women, and children can spend weeks, months, and sometimes years inside of these facilities with little connection to the outside world and limited access to legal, medical, or social resources. To combat the isolating experience of immigration detention and promote government accountability, communities throughout the United States are establishing volunteer-based visitation programs.

However, establishing a community visitation program (CVP) at a U.S. immigration detention facility often takes longer than a year. The problem is that no U.S. law mandates these programs or even acknowledges a right to receive visits while in immigration detention. Additionally, whether any one program remains in operation is nearly entirely within the discretion of the individual detention facility. While the right to receive visits is an emerging international norm and member states of the European Union are beginning to protect a person’s right to receive visits in immigration detention, the U.S. government has been slow to recognize the benefits of visitation.

This article sets forth the first comprehensive look at the challenges associated with starting and maintaining a CVP in the U.S. immigration detention system and the domestic and international laws that affect immigration detention visitation.


Detention Immigration United States Visitation 



Christina Mansfield and David Fraccaro provided essential guidance during the research process, and I am indebted to Karina Wilkinson, Rev. John Guttermann, Sr. Joann Persch, Sr. Pat Murphy, Katie Beno-Valencia, Sally Pillay, Ali McGinley, and Michael Kaufman for their time, enthusiasm, and ideas. Special thanks to W. David Ball, Professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and Co-Chair of the Corrections Committee of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section, who reviewed earlier drafts of this paper. Any errors are mine alone.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)San FranciscoUSA

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