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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

ACLU urges Biden admin to shut down dozens of ICE sites, citing abusive conditions and empty beds

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“Fiscal Year 2020 was the deadliest year in ICE detention in 15 years,” the ACLU said. “Last year alone, we saw reports of increased use of force, solitary confinement, patterns of sexual abuse, forced sterilization, and an utter failure to protect people from COVID-19. ICE’s extreme recklessness in handling the COVID-19 virus showed the blatant disregard it had for the health and well-being of detained people, as well as the extent to which it was willing to lie or obfuscate to avoid accountability.”

In just one example, ICE’s direct actions created a COVID-19 disaster at the Farmville Detention Center in Virginia last August. Instead of allowing detained immigrants to shelter at home, officials transferred dozens of people from facilities elsewhere in the nation to Farmville without first separating them from the general population, resulting in hundreds upon hundreds of positive cases. A federal judge would soon order ICE to immediately stop moving people into the privately operated prison.

The ACLU is now calling on Mayorkas to shut down this facility, along with several other facilities that were also sites of mass outbreaks, including Otay Mesa Detention Center in California and Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. Fifty-seven-year-old Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, the first immigrant to die of the virus after being in ICE custody, had been jailed at Otay Mesa.

“CoreCivic deprived him of adequate personal protective equipment, proper social distance, and appropriate treatment, all with the knowledge and participation of ICE and its officials,” his family said in a lawsuit . “His death did not have to happen.” At Eloy, hundreds of contracted employees got sick. But publicly, ICE fudged those numbers.

“Through COVID-19 related litigation, advocacy, and the shutdown of asylum under the Trump administration, detention rates dropped to rates lower than we’ve seen in two decades,” the ACLU continued. “There are currently more than 15,000 people detained—this is just over a quarter of the people who were detained at the peak in 2019. ICE is currently wasting over $1 million a day on guaranteed minimum bed space that isn’t being used.”

Of course, the solution there isn’t to fill the beds back up. That’s certainly what ICE and the private prison companies making money off of immigrants want you to think. The solution is to get rid of them altogether. Government watchdog reports have as recently as last month detailed harmful conditions at the privately operated Adelanto Detention Center in California, one of the sites ACLU is urging get closed down. That report found that for years, officials have been using an EPA-registered pesticide at the site that left detained immigrants with nosebleeds and breathing issues. 

“This report confirms what those in detention have known for far too long—that GEO doesn’t care about the health and safety of immigrants,” the Shut Down Adelanto Coalition said at the time in a statement from Earthjustice. “But more than that, they don’t even regard immigrants as human. There is no reform possible when we are starting the conversation with an argument about the basic humanity of a group of people. This is disgusting and heart-breaking.”

Also on the ACLU’s list is the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, where detained women were abused by a notorious gynecologist. In a statement received by Daily Kos, advocacy groups Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, GLAHR, South Georgia Immigrant Support Network, and Detention Watch Network said no women are currently being detained at the facility. A number of men still do remain detained there. The Biden administration should go all the way and shut it down entirely. “The release of women from Irwin, brought about through years of organizing and speaking out about the abuses, is a step in the right direction,” Project South Legal & Advocacy Director Azadeh Shahshahani said in the statement.

Millions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted to maintain thousands of empty beds and keep asylum seekers and immigrants in inhumane and life-threatening conditions,” Shah continued. “The number of detained people is currently lower than it’s been in two decades: President Biden has a unique moment to shrink the infrastructure that’s been used to abuse and traumatize immigrants for decades. It’s time to end our nation’s newest system of mass incarceration of Black and Brown people.”


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