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We Got Cameras Inside One of the Biggest ICE Detention Centers. This Is What We Saw.

Inmates are given color-coded uniforms to denote their threat level: blue for no criminal history, orange means arrested in the U.S., and red means "serious."

by Evan McMorris-Santoro, Jesse Seidman, and Roberto Daza
Aug 2 2019, 10:36pm

Correction 8/6 9:41 a.m. ET: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that cameras were allowed into the facility for the first time.

EL PASO, Texas — Immigration and Customs Enforcement opened the doors to one of its largest immigrant detention facilities, giving cameras rare access.

A small group of reporters shadowing a congressional delegation were granted access to the El Paso Processing Center on Friday. The facility houses adult men and women as they await adjudication of their asylum cases or deportation back to their country of origin.

In keeping with current border policy, families with children are not held at facilities like this; they are released to sponsors inside the United States. At the El Paso facility, husbands are separated from wives, and women and men are kept separately. A typical stay averages 30 days, according to officials.

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Orange uniforms are for inmates previously arrested in the U.S. Red uniforms are for inmates convicted of “serious felonies.” (Photo: Jesse Seidman/VICE News)

Officials insist they are not operating a prison — because they see a prison as a place where people are carrying out sentences handed down by a judge — but the trappings of American incarceration are visible everywhere.

Detainees are given different-colored uniforms to denote their potential violent threat level — blue means no criminal history, orange means arrested in the U.S. in the past, red means “serious” felony convictions in the detainee’s past. Blue is the most common color. Doors are locked, razor-wire tops fences, and detainees are sometimes separated along nationality lines to prevent violence.

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About two dozen detainees were escorted across a courtyard by contract security guards. Blue uniforms are worn by detainees with no criminal history. Orange uniforms are for inmates previously arrested in the US. (Photo: Jesse Seidman/VICE News)

ICE Field Office Director Corey Price said he hopes to change the public perception of ICE detention.

"As you know, this year has been quite challenging, trying to get out facts from fiction sorted out in the public," he said. "So I thought it was extremely important to let you all in and let you get a first-hand look at how ICE detention actually operates. I want you to see the medical care that's actually provided, the food services, the suite of services that are quite frankly provided to detainees that are in our care."

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The lunch provided to detainees at the El Paso Processing Center included beans, tortilla chips, shredded cheese and water. (Photo: Jesse Seidman/VICE News)

Cameras captured the facility's medical wing; processing unit; "intercultural center," which houses religious ceremonies and AA meetings; dining hall; a women's dormitory; the law library; and a detainee-run barbershop.

VICE News along with other media outlets agreed not to show faces of detainees or ICE employees. Further, outlets agreed not to interview detainees or ICE employees beyond designated media-relations officials. Under questioning, officials said the facility had not been altered for the media tour.

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Dozens of detainees gathered in the El Paso Processing Center’s cafetería for a meal. Vice New was not allowed to speak them during a media facilitated by ICE. (Photo: Jesse Seidman/VICE News)

Facility officials said it was the first time cameras were allowed in the El Paso Processing Facility. Media delegations without cameras and delegations from the U.S. government, foreign governments and NGOs are a familiar presence, according to officials.

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ICE allowed the media to take video and photos of the El Paso Processing Center’s facilities and its detainees. (Photo: Jesse Seidman/VICE News)

Cover photo: About two dozen detainees were escorted across a courtyard by contract security guards. Blue uniforms are worn by detainees with no criminal history. Orange uniforms are for inmates previously arrested in the US. (Photo: Jesse Seidman/VICE News)

VICE News Tonight will air a full piece on the the visit to this ICE facility and others on Tuesday, Aug 6, at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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immigration and customs enforcement