Detention Watch Network blasts ICE’s intention, disclosed in private letter, to expand immigration detention

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Washington, DC —  In December, Detention Watch Network received a letter from Tae D. Johnson, Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in response to a letter delivered on October 8 to President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas 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.

Advocates were angered by Acting Director Johnson’s defense of detention in the letter and his complete failure to acknowledge concerns raised in the October 8 letter. Furthermore, in the response, he disclosed ICE’s intention to repurpose  former Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and United States Marshals Service (USMS) contracts for ICE detention, completely undermining the spirit of President Biden’s executive order and contradicting his promise to end the use of private prisons and reduce reliance on immigration detention.

Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network, issued the following statement in response:

“Acting Director Johnson’s claim that detention is not punitive is hollow. First and foremost, immigration detention is designed to strip people of their dignity and restrict freedom of movement – lives are in danger in ICE custody, full stop. Decades of evidence by directly impacted individuals, advocates, and DHS’s own Office of Inspector General make it clear that human rights abuses are endemic to detention. ICE detention standards and inspections have done nothing to change this. The only solution is to shut down detention centers and end the use immigration detention.” 

“Detaining people under the guise of ensuring compliance is not only disingenuous but also a complete waste of tax dollars. In addition to the very nature of immigration detention being fundamentally fraught and inhumane, studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of those who are released attend their hearings. A recent study found that over the last 11 years, immigrants in removal proceedings have attended their court hearings 83 percent of the time. Of those that have filed a claim for relief, such as asylum, 95 percent attend their court hearings. Another study found that non-detained asylum seekers attend their court hearings 98.7 percent of the time. Appearance rates are even higher for those that have legal representation. Let’s be clear: detention is unnecessary and the administration can restore fair access to the border without the use of detention.”

“This letter also confirms what Detention Watch Network and Project South concluded in a recent report, Broken Promises: Limits of Biden’s Executive Order on Private Prisons. It shows unequivocally that President Biden’s ICE is pursuing contracts with private prison companies for facilities that should be shut down under the President’s executive order on private prisons, contradicting the promises Biden made to end the use of for profit prisons, including for undocumented immigrants.”

“Lastly, “alternatives to detention” (ATD) run by ICE, an enforcement agency, is an alternative form of detention. ATDs have only proven to be another route to restrict and monitor immigrants, expanding the surveillance dragnet and further alienating immigrant communities. In fact, the number of people under ICE’s surveillance and control has risen in tandem with an alarming rise in the number of people in detention since President Biden took office. Detention, in all of its forms, must be abolished. Regardless of the conditions or justifications, any length of time in detention inflicts unnecessary trauma.” 


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.