DWN applauds moratorium on deportations, must begin dismantling the detention system

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, January 21, 2021

Washington, DC — In response to President Biden’s memorandum directing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct a review of policies and practices concerning immigration enforcement which includes interim enforcement priorities and a 100-day moratorium on deportations, Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network offered the following statement: 

“It’s important that we applaud this moment. The relentless advocacy of the immigrant justice movement made deportations pause for 100 days as people across the country have been organizing, speaking out and uniting to protect immigrant family members, friends, coworkers and neighbors demanding transformative change. 

Here is an analysis of the memo:

  • Beginning no later than January 22, 2021, a 100 day moratorium on deportations will go into effect, with limited but notable exceptions. 
  • Starting February 1, 2021 the agency will be expected to follow interim enforcement guidelines. These guidelines have exceptions for people found to be a national security threat, some people currently incarcerated in jails and prisons across the country, and those arriving at the border. This is concerning since many people that spend long periods in detention fit these categories.
    • Specifically people who are currently in criminal custody and have been convicted of aggravated felonies and who are found to be a threat to public safety could be excluded. The list of crimes that are considered aggravated felonies under immigration law is long and includes offenses which are very often considered neither aggravated nor felonies in the criminal context, such as shoplifting. Immigrants and refugees with criminal convictions should not face additional punishment of detention and deportation, because of where they were born. 
    • Given ICE and CBP's documented history of detaining and deporting people with impunity regardless of internal policy, we are concerned that a deportation moratorium without stopping enforcement and detention will put more people at risk. 
    • Furthermore we urge the Biden administration to put an end to the long history of using public safety and national security as pretext for criminalizing immigrants and targeting Black and brown communities.
  • Over the next 100 days DHS must perform a comprehensive review of enforcement policies and priorities and provide recommendations to address various aspects of enforcement, including “policies governing detention.” 
    • There are currently 14,715 people in immigration detention — the lowest number since 1999. This number must only trend down as people are released back to their families, communities and support networks.
    • During the moratorium on deportation, the Biden administration must use every available avenue to release people currently detained and begin to dismantle the detention system. This urgency is heightened during  the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with many jails, prisons, and detention centers  currently experiencing deadly outbreaks.

As the Chief of Staff embarks on review of policies and practices concerning immigration enforcement, it will be blatantly clear that ICE is an agency plagued by egregiously poor conditions and a culture of violence. Furthermore the agency has a longstanding pattern of operating with a complete lack of transparency to evade accountability. From gynecological procedures without informed consent, to the death toll in ICE custody reaching the highest it’s been in 15 years and a massive uptick in hunger strikes by detained people, the evidence is overwhelming. 

The issues endemic to the detention system are vast and when coupled with the alarming fact that ICE’s budget has grown by about 40 percent since 2016 only further illustrates how throwing more resources at the agency does not result in a better or more humane system. People are in jeopardy in ICE custody and the detention system is a stain on the United States.

Following the review we expect the Chief of Staff to make the recommendation to take swift and decisive action by releasing people from detention, shutting down detention facilities, ending state and local entanglement with immigration enforcement and dramatically cutting funding to ICE and CBP in the President’s budget proposal. 

Simply put, people navigating their immigration case should be able to do so with their families and in community — not behind bars in immigration detention. The system needs to be abolished.”


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.