Women in Immigration Detention Facilities

Roughly 300 women are currently detained in immigration detention facilities in Arizona. Large-scale detention of immigrants is a relatively recent phenomenon, and detention of women in significant numbers is even more recent. Women have only been detained in immigration detention facilities in the state since 2001. They have been placed in facilities that largely house other populations, either male immigration detainees or people serving criminal sentences of either sex. There is little public information about or awareness of immigration detention facilities, and in light of the small numbers of women and their recent addition, even less information or awareness about their treatment.

In an attempt to raise awareness about this invisible population of prisoners and identify specific steps to improve their conditions of confinement, the Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program, in partnership with the Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SIROW), conducted more than 50 interviews with current and former detainees, attorneys and social service providers who work with women detainees. We also extensively researched the standards and rights applicable to immigration detainees and documented the extent to which the facilities are meeting these legal obligations.

Based on this research, in January 2009 the Bacon Program released "Unseen Prisoners: A Report on Women in Immigration Detention Facilities in Arizona" (PDF). The report attracted significant media attention, including articles in the New York Times, Tucson Weekly, and Associated Press.


The report was only the first stage in a multi-step campaign to protect and advance the human and civil rights of women in immigration detention facilities.

The report's findings have been presented to a wide array of audiences, including a Congressional briefing in June 2009. In response to the needs identified in the report, the Bacon Program and SIROW obtained funding to hire a social services coordinator to provide social support and services to individual detainees. Through the Immigration Law Clinic , we also provide legal services to a select number of detainees each semester. We have formed strong partnerships with nonprofits including the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, the ACLU of Arizona, the Women's Refugee Commission, and Human Rights Watch. We work jointly with these organizations to improve policies on both the local and national levels that are responsive to the needs of women detainees.