220 Immigrant and Human Rights Groups call on the Biden administration to immediately halt immigration detention expansion and terminate contracts

For Immediate Release: 
Friday, October 8, 2021

Washington, DC — Today Detention Watch Network, Shut Down Berks Coalition, JUNTOS, National Immigrant Justice Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, Aldea - the People’s Justice Center, Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC), the Nationalities Service Center (NSC), and CASA delivered a letter to President Biden and Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on behalf of 220 immigrant and human rights groups demanding that the Biden administration immediately halt all efforts to expand immigration detention and terminate contracts.

In the letter, advocates underscore disappointment regarding the planned reopening of Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Pennsylvania, a former Bureau of Prisons (BOP) jail, as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center and the conversion and expansion of the Berks County ICE detention center also in Pennsylvania to an adult facility for women. 

The letter states: “ICE’s decision to open Moshannon Valley and convert Berks in Pennsylvania contradicts and undermines this administration’s commitments to reform and the efforts of community members in Pennsylvania. ICE appears to be trying to make up for other facility closures in the Northeast United States by making Pennsylvania an immigration prison hub. As more states and county governments take measures towards phasing out ICE detention, the administration should take the opportunity to release people and limit enforcement operations in response to public outcry, not allow ICE to expand to new regions. It is hard if not impossible for the civil rights community to take seriously this administration’s intentions for detention reform, when its actions so blatantly contradict them.”

It is not too late to reverse course. In the letter, advocates demand the Biden administration take urgent action by:

  • Immediately terminating the contracts signed last week with Clearfield County for the Moshannon Valley facility and Berks County for the Berks facility;
  • Halt all other efforts to expand the ICE detention system through any new or extended ICE contracts;
  • Apply the Executive Order on privately operated prisons to end immigration detention contracts with private prison companies and local governments; and 
  • Take significant steps to dismantle the system of mass immigrant incarceration and the use of detention for asylum processing. 

Setareh Ghandehari, advocacy director of Detention Watch Network, said:

“The Biden administration has made detention central to its response to migration. This is a choice we are deeply disappointed in. Immigration detention is inherently harmful, abusive and unjust. Biden’s continued actions to inflate the immigration detention system despite the administration’s ongoing promises to end the use of for-profit detention and roll back ICE’s fundamentally flawed system is shameful. Biden must act on his promise to bring justice and fairness to the immigration system.”

Jesse Franzblau, Senior Policy Analyst with the National Immigrant Justice Center, said:

“Since inauguration, the Biden administration has let ICE grow its sprawling web of immigration detention jails, extending contracts and signing new deals with private prison giants. Biden should rein in ICE, listen to state and local governments working to get rid of ICE detention, and work towards phasing out the punitive ICE detention system.”

Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney with the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said:

“ICE’s decision to expand private prisons blatantly contradicts President Biden’s commitments to end private prisons for all, including immigrants. It’s not too late for the administration to take the moral high ground here and put a stop to ICE’s cruel, costly and unnecessary detention expansion.”

Nick Katz, Legal Director at CASA, said:

“Our members, more than 120,000 strong, have felt the devastating impact of immigration detention for decades.  It has left them physically and emotionally scarred, separated mothers and fathers from their children, and stacked the odds further against them in a broken immigration system.  We are outraged that the Biden administration has utterly failed to live up to its promise to dramatically scale back immigration detention, instead fighting against state and local governments who have taken common-sense measures to protect their residents from the damage done by these facilities.  We call on President Biden and DHS to reverse course and immediately end private immigration detention,while moving aggressively towards the abolition of all immigration detention.”

Read the letter here.


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level. Visit detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.