Detention Watch Network Escalates Communities Not Cages Campaign to Shut Down 10 ICE Detention Centers

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, February 25, 2021
Several Members of Congress Join Call for the Shut Down of Detention Facilities

Washington, DC — Today Detention Watch Network (DWN) announced the “First Ten to Communities Not Cages'' campaign, demanding the shut down of 10 immigration detention facilities in the first year of the Biden administration. “First Ten'' is the next phase of DWN’s national Communities Not Cages Campaign to shut down Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers and stop the expansion and construction of new facilities.

For the campaign’s launch, advocates have compiled the “First Ten to Communities Not Cages” report, detailing the overwhelming evidence of abuse and neglect at each of the facilities. 

“The ‘First Ten’ detention centers  are emblematic of how the immigration detention system as a whole is inherently abusive, unjust and fatally flawed beyond repair,” said Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network. “ICE’s detention system does not need to exist. The Communities Not Cages campaign works with local community organizations to end it and build a better future for everyone. Simply put, people navigating their immigration case should be able to do so with their families and loved ones — not behind bars in immigration detention.”  

The #FirstTen launch of the #CommunitiesNotCages campaign comes amidst the backdrop of 2020 being the deadliest fiscal year in ICE custody since 2005, and ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks in detention. One month into the Biden administration,  the president has yet to address ICE’s deadly immigration detention system, despite immigration being a priority issue for the administration. 

Several members of congress are joining the call to shut down the #FirstTen detention centers, encouraging the Biden administration to act now. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar, representing Minnesota’s 5th district, said:

“As we speak, ICE is carrying out a campaign of mass deportation and mass detention. They are directly responsible for a deadly outbreak of coronavirus in these facilities. These are human rights abuses, plain and simple, and it’s time to finally end the chapter of mass detention and deportation of aspiring Americans. That starts with closing these ten facilities.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, representing Washington state’s 7th district, said:

“As America begins a new presidential administration, we need to finally leave our nation’s cruel, xenophobic history of criminalizing and caging immigrants behind. The urgency to do so has only been underscored by a deadly pandemic that has spread like wildfire through ICE facilities, taking the lives of immigrants who were trapped inside. As a lifelong immigrant rights organizer, one of only 14 naturalized citizens serving in Congress, and the lead sponsor of the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, I am proud to stand with Detention Watch Network as they launch their “First Ten” campaign and call on the Biden administration to finally end our country’s reliance on immigration detention, starting with these ten particularly egregious facilities.”

Rep. Norma J. Torres, representing California’s 35th district, said:

“I stand with Detention Watch Network in calling on the Biden Administration to end the immoral use of immigrant detention centers, starting with the ten facilities outlined in their “First Ten to Communities Not Cages” campaign today. There is no justification for this nation of immigrants to be placing aspiring Americans in cages – period. Closing infamous facilities like Adelanto in California would send a clear message that the days of inhumane immigration policies ended with the Trump Administration.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro, representing Texas’ 20th district, said:

“Even before the COVID pandemic, conditions in many ICE and CBP detention facilities were inhumane, holding families, elderly persons, pregnant women, and children in unsanitary prisons and cruel conditions. I have personally witnessed this inhumanity at multiple detention centers and heard directly from those held inside them, and we should shut down the most abusive facilities. Last week, multiple detention centers in Texas were without power and heat, and immigrants were trapped in freezing temperatures. The orderly and safe release of individuals held within these detention centers is of the utmost importance to build a more humane immigration system.”

Rep. Veronica Escobar, representing Texas' 16th district, said:

“From traumatic force-feeding of those on hunger strike, to horrific accounts of sexual assault, to a lack of protection against the deadly COVID pandemic, ICE detention facilities have been the site of abhorrent inhumanity. As we move forward on meaningful immigration reform, we must close these facilities and investigate the human rights abuses that occurred within them. If our goal is to treat immigrants with dignity and respect, and to hold our nation to a higher standard of immigration policies, we cannot turn a blind eye to the shocking conditions taking place inside. These closures are a critical first step toward progress.” 

Rep. Mark Takano, representing California’s 41st district, said:

“ICE detention facilities in Adelanto and across the country have consistently operated in ways that contradict our nation’s immigrant values, it’s time to shut them down. I’ve visited Adelanto and I’ve witnessed the way immigrants in detention are being treated in these facilities, often being exposed to unsafe and unsanitary conditions that endanger their health and well-being. This problem has been much worse during the pandemic as these facilities have become hot spots for the COVID-19 virus that threaten the health of detainees and our communities. As a nation, we must stand up for human rights and in defense of immigrants who come to this country seeking a better life. I commend the Biden Administration for taking action to end the federal use of for-profit prisons, and I urge him to do the same for immigration detention centers. The GEO Group, which runs Adelanto and other facilities across the country, profits from the unjust treatment of detainees and our broken immigration system. That’s why I support the ‘First Ten’ campaign in calling for the shutdown of the Adelanto ICE Detention Center, and I’ll gladly join calls to shut down more detention centers nationwide. Families and asylum-seekers do not belong in detention and children do not belong in cages – our immigration system must be humane.”

The “First Ten” detention centers of the Communities Not Cages campaign are:

1. Adelanto Detention Center in Adelanto, California where ICE has circumvented local efforts to shut down the facility despite evidence from California’s Department of Justice and the Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General decrying conditions at the facility. 

Lizbeth Abeln, Deportation Defense-Programs Manager of Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, said:

“This pandemic has confirmed what we’ve been saying for years, ICE is an agency designed to terrorize immigrant communities and no one is safe in ICE jails. When people like Jose Tapete have spoken, ICE has retaliated harshly by using harmful chemicals, pepper spray, and rubber bullets against them. Their heinous actions against immigrants are degrading and demonstrate purposeful intent to cause harm. This facility needs to be shut down, no more excuses."

2. Berks Family Detention Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania where in 2014, a guard pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a 19 year old mother and asylum applicant. 

Mike Ishii with the Shut Down Berks Coalition and Tsuru for Solidarity, said:

"Imagine creating a place of extreme suffering targeting Black and Brown immigrant families, where children go untreated with respiratory infections and festering mouth sores, where guards sexually assault children, where people are denied medical testing or access to adequate care during a pandemic- and where profit comes before the well-being of Haitian families due to the indifference of County Commissioners, Governor Wolf and now the Biden administration — then you have imagined hell on earth called ‘family detention.’ Berks County Residential Center must be shut down immediately.” 

3. Dilley Family Detention Center in Dilley, Texas where in the last two years one child tragically died after leaving the facility and a guard was accused of physically assaulting a 5 year old.

Guerline Jozef of Haitian Bridge Alliance, said:

"The current U.S. immigration prison system was started in the 1980s as a way to humiliate, dehumanize and criminalize Black refugees from Haiti fleeing  political persecution. We must immediately shut down these cruel and racist detention facilities, especially family detention centers like Dilley where so many children have suffered under harsh conditions causing the death of at least one child.- Saving the “Soul of America” requires that we create a safe and humane system because children do not belong in prison. To “build back better”, we must have systematic changes because for most of us there’s not a normal for us to go back to. We demand bold action to provide protection and relief for all children and their families. We must welcome them with dignity."  

4. Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama where people have no access to outdoor recreation, indefinite detention regularly occurs and the local sheriff has suspended the visitation project. 

Kwasi Attipoe, activist and formally detained at Etowah, said:

“No amount of fresh paint or construction will fix that place–people are treated terribly, there’s little access to food, the staff are improperly trained…Etowah County Detention Center is unsafe and needs to be shut down now.”  

5. Farmville Detention Center in Farmville, Virginia where an outbreak of COVID-19 resulted in 93 percent of people detained testing positive, the largest outbreak in the detention system to-date.

Marcela Rodriguez of La ColectiVA, said:

“Every day that ICA-Farmville remains open is a threat to the dignity, health, and lives of our families and community members. ICA-Farmville, like all jails and prisons, is a site with a long track record of brutality, abuse, and neglect that can only come to and end with the facility being shut down. As people who have experienced the violence of ICA and ICE in Virginia, and our community, we demand the Biden administration immediately shut down ICA-Farmville, all detention centers, and free everyone to be with their loved ones.”

6. T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas where ICE circumvented local efforts to shut down the facility despite a history of abuse including multiple sexual assaults by guards since 2010 and forced labor allegations currently in litigation.

Sulma C. Franco, Detention Program Organizer at Grassroots Leadership, said:

"As a person directly impacted by the mass incarceration system of ICE and private corporations, including at the Hutto Detention Center, I know well what really happens at these places. In reality, detention centers are sites responsible for medical negligence, physical and sexual abuse, isolation, and intense trauma that can lead to even death. These places shouldn't exist anywhere. We must say no more! No more cages. We all deserve liberty, respect, and justice."

7. Irwin Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia where a whistleblower and detained women exposed gynecological procedures happening without informed consent just last year.

Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal and Advocacy Director of Project South, said:

"The shocking revelations about medical abuse against women's bodies further highlight the extent of the egregious abuses at Irwin. The fact that Black and brown immigrant women had been held in an extremely vulnerable position at this prison where they had no control over their bodies and no say about what was done to them is sickening. Irwin must be shut down immediately and people should be freed. The United States Government as well as the private prison corporation running this prison must be held accountable."

8. Karnes Family Detention Center in Karnes City, Texas where numerous studies have shown the psychologically damaging effects of family detention.

Andrea Meza, Director of Family Detention Services at RAICES, said:

“The Karnes family prison has never been a "residential center."  It is an immigration prison designed for adults that was painted bright colors when ICE began to incarcerate children there.  ICE may have added playgrounds, but imprisoned children cannot play freely. For years families detained at Karnes have complained of inadequate medical care, often told that there is no treatment available at Karnes and they must wait to be released to access necessary care.  We know about the lasting harmful effects of incarcerating children. There is no excuse for continued family detention—Karnes must be shut down now.”     

9. Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield, California where in response to ICE’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 200 people at Mesa Verde launched a hunger strike in April 2020 with a petition titled ”Detention into Death Sentence.”

Charles Joseph, detained for 11 months at the Mesa Verde Detention Center, said:

“I was detained at Mesa Verde for 11 months last year. The Mesa Verde Detention Center, like all detention centers, puts lives at risk. I will continue to speak out on the need to shut down detention facilities — Me and my family face this threat of me not being here. It's real and it’s horrible.”

10. Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, New Mexico where a 2021 report comprised of 259 complaints found common issues of poor medical care, violations of due process, lack of legal access, racial discrimination, and staff mistreatment.

Margaret Brown Vega of AVID in the Chihuahuan Desert, said:

"The abusive treatment of individuals detained at Otero, including prolonged solitary confinement, discrimination, and constant verbal abuse rises to the level of torture. Staff and officials at Otero routinely commit civil and human rights violations, and the facility has a history of gross medical neglect that resulted in two recent deaths. Management & Training Corporation and ICE work to mask conditions, hide abuses, and retaliate against those who speak out. This facility must be closed."

Background on the Communities Not Cages Campaign:

DWN launched the CNC campaign in 2018 as a vehicle to support local organizing and coordinate a national strategy to shut down detention centers, stop the expansion and construction of new facilities and ultimately abolish immigration detention in its entirety. Currently, there are 23 ongoing local shut down or anti-expansion campaigns that are part of the national Communities Not Cages effort. 


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 Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.