ICE Detention


The focus of the Immigrant Detention Condition Project launched by Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS) and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) is to advocate on behalf of immigrants civilly detained in Massachusetts detention centers. The project focuses on improving conditions and addresses multiple issues faced by detained immigrants, including discrimination, placement in solitary confinement, language access needs, medical and mental health care, food and sanitation, and access to programming and services.

No other group in Massachusetts is focused on advocating for the rights of detainees to be free from unlawful conditions in these detention centers. The project is designed to maximize the impact on the immigrant detainee population in Massachusetts for years to come. For example, we have created new advocacy protocols and self-help materials tailored to detainees, engaged in systemic advocacy to protect the health and safety of detainees during the COVID pandemic, laid the groundwork for litigation, and engaged in legislative reform.

Here are some self-help materials we have gathered so far:

grievance procedure

Individuals being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may have complaints about conditions of confinement, physical or sexual assault, medical negligence, access to attorneys and legal materials, or other issues. This document provides a very brief description of the processes which individuals can follow to voice their complaints to the proper officials or government offices.

PLS also periodically files complaints on behalf of ICE detainees, so please contact our legal staff if you or someone you know is experiencing conditions-related problems in detention.

Internal Grievances (presented directly by the detainee)

ICE detainees are allowed to address legitimate complaints through Informal Complaint or Grievance Procedures, as further outlined in the ICE Detainee Handbook that each facility is required to develop and that each detainee is required to receive upon admission to the facility along with a copy of the ICE/ERO National Detainee Handbook. If the detainee does not accept the grievance committee’s decision, they may appeal the decision. All facilities are required to have procedures for addressing detainee appeals.

Below is some general information about the grievance procedure. Please refer to the ICE Detainee Handbook for more specific details about the grievance procedures in each detention facility.

Informal/Oral Grievances:

If you have a complaint, you can first try to resolve your problem by speaking with a staff member. If you choose to complain orally, you should present your complaint within five or ten days (depending on the detention center) of the event. The detention facility is required to make every effort to resolve a detainee’s complaint or grievance at the lowest level possible, in an orderly and timely manner. Each facility should have procedures for the informal resolution of oral grievances. Illiterate, disabled, or non-English speaking detainees should be provided additional assistance, upon request. The detainee is always free to bypass or terminate the informal grievance process and proceed directly to the formal grievance stage described below.

Formal/Written Grievances:

The facility must allow you to submit a formal, written grievance to the facility’s grievance committee. You may take this step because you are not satisfied with the outcome of the informal process, or because you decide to forgo the informal procedures. Illiterate, disabled, or non-English speaking detainees should be provided additional assistance, upon request. Your written complaint should be filed either within five or ten days (depending on the detention center) of the actual event or within five or ten days of the unsuccessful conclusion of an informal grievance.

Emergency Grievances:

Each facility is required to implement procedures for identifying and handling an emergency grievance. An emergency grievance involves an immediate threat to a detainee’s health, safety, or welfare.

Medical Grievances:

All detainees may request medical and mental health services by following the Sick/Medical Slip procedures established by each detention facility. If you are having problems receiving medical care or feel that you are not receiving proper care you can file a medical grievance. Medical grievances should be promptly referred to and answered by the medical department

Please be aware that in many civil cases, in order to preserve your right to sue about inadequate medical care, medical malpractice, or any other problem specifically related to medical care you must file a medical grievance and exhaust all levels of the grievance appeals process. That is NOT the case in immigration cases, but it is still recommended that you do.


If you do not accept the grievance decision, you may appeal it. All facilities should have procedures for addressing detainee appeals that should be further outlined in the ICE Detainee Handbook.

Administrative Complaints (presented either directly by the detainee or a third party)

The complaint process described above involves filing complaints with people who are directly involved with the facility (internally). In addition to this internal complaint process, there are also administrative complaint processes that involve filing complaints with other officials and agencies that are indirectly involved with ICE detention facilities. This process is used to establish a record of abuses by the agency that may lead to disciplinary action against an officer or more careful supervision.

If you, as the detainee, choose to write complaints to these agencies, be sure to make copies of your letters, and label the envelope “LEGAL MAIL.” Since some of these complaints may lead to future lawsuits, it is very important to be accurate about the statements you make (especially about the time, date, exact location, and individuals who were there/involved). Be sure to send complaints as soon as possible.

DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

ICE ERO Detention Reporting and Information Line:

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG)

ICE Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR):

Local Boston Field Office for ICE ERO:

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Representation of Detainees in Deportation Proceedings

Last updated 2/13/2020

There have been many recent changes in federal immigration laws which are harmful to persons facing deportation with criminal convictions.  For these reasons, if at all possible, you or your family should hire an attorney to represent you at the deportation hearing.  PLS does not provide this type of representation.  The following information may help you to find an attorney or get valuable advice on this matter.

P.A.I.R. PROJECT – Political Asylum and Immigration Resources

Central West Justice Center – A Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Community Legal Aid

Attorney Referral Services

Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Immigration Impact Unity (IIU)

Congressional Representatives and Senators

If you have additional questions or concerns that you would like assistance with, please call us during our intake hours on Monday (or Tuesday if Monday is a holiday):

1:00pm – 4:00pm

or write us a letter to:

50 Federal Street
4th Floor
Boston, MA 02110


50 Federal St., 4th Floor, Boston MA 02110