It’s detention if people are in ICE custody,  no matter how the agency rebrands it

For Immediate Release: 
Friday, February 26, 2021

Washington, DC — Advocates are voicing concern in response to the news that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is rebranding two out of its three family detention centers as “reception centers.” Whenever people are in ICE custody, lives are in jeopardy. 

The South Texas Family Residential Center (Dilley) and the Karnes County Family Residential Center (Karnes), both in Texas, share a well-documented history of negligence and abuse, including physical and sexual abuse and inadequate medical and mental health care. This is a pattern seen throughout ICE’s detention system. Advocates have been clear that ICE’s family detention centers, like all detention centers, need to be shut down and contracts must be terminated. Advocates point out that support services for people who need it, like transportation and housing, should be provided and facilitated by local community based groups — never ICE,  whose system is plagued by egregiously poor conditions and a culture of violence that results in system-wide abuses, including death. 2020 was ICE’s deadliest fiscal year since 2005, and people in its custody continue to face COVID-19 outbreaks.

This announcement comes the same day that Detention Watch Network launched its “First Ten to Communities Not Cages” campaign calling for the Biden administration to immediately shut down 10 detention centers, including Karnes and Dilley, in its first year. 

Immigrant rights organizations advocating for the shut down of family detention centers issued the following statements:

Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network, said: “ICE sees the writing on the wall—people across the country want to shut detention centers down, and this rebranding is a veiled attempt to keep jailing immigrant families. Let us be clear: no one should be in ICE custody. ICE is a deadly and abusive agency, rooted in white supremacy. ICE should never be tasked with a person’s care. Communities across the country are already welcoming and supporting newly arrived people. Karnes and Dilley must be shut down and the contracts must end immediately.”

Satsuki Ina, Co-Chair of Tsuru For Solidarity and former child prisoner, said: “This latest euphemism for locking up families doesn’t fool us. A prison is a prison. And that’s true whether it’s called a ‘family residential facility,’ a ‘reception center,’ or — as the Japanese American community experienced in World War II — an ‘assembly center,’ ‘relocation center,’ or ‘family internment camp.’ We are still waiting for the Biden administration to fulfill its campaign promise to end family detention. Dilley and Karnes must be torn down, not renamed.” 

Norma Herrera of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, said: "Border communities have a long and powerful history of truly welcoming people arriving at the border and supporting them with meals, safe travel arrangements, and real shelter, not detention. People passing through the region and long time members of our community have shared the horrors of what they have experienced in ICE and CBP detention. The lessons are clear. We cannot trust these agencies, but we can trust communities here and across the country that have already proven through their actions that communities not cages provide the care and compassion that all families deserve." 

Shalyn Fluharty, Director of Proyecto Dilley, said: “The policy of jailing parents with their children - including babies - is inhumane and unjust no matter what you call it. Detained families have loving family members in the community who are immediately ready to receive and welcome them. Ending family detention is the only way to ensure families seeking refuge are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. ” 

From the Shut Down Berks Coalition: “The family prisons at Berks, Dilley, and Karnes are the sites of untold cruelty and violence towards children and families. The 80 million people who elected Joe Biden made it clear that they want family detention to end, as he promised to do on the campaign trail. Instead he is simply adopting a new euphemism for ‘family prison.’ ICE will find a way to lock up families until they can be deported, because that is ICE’s mandate and mission. Families should never be imprisoned in ICE custody. We demand that the Biden administration eliminate family detention and instead invest resources into community-based organizations in support of immigrants and the local economy.”

Andrea Meza, Family Detention Unit Director at RAICES said: “ICE's rebranding of family prisons to family processing is nothing to celebrate.  Experts unilaterally agree that there is no safe way to detain a child.  Each day in family prison includes parents unable to decide when their children eat or sleep, or who they play with, and children traumatized and terrified by guards in uniform barking orders.  There is no evidence to support ICE’s prediction that it can actually process and release families in three days.  In fact, ICE often asks RAICES to assist with travel arrangements, to find shelter for those without sponsors, and to connect with sponsors who may understandably be reluctant to answer a call from an immigration officer.  Policy decisions like this quickly change, and as long as the family prisons remain open, we risk a return to long term family detention and family separation.”

Grassroots Leadership, said: “When families are held against their will, that is not a reception center, it’s a prison. ICE, CoreCivic, and GEO Group have proven themselves grossly unqualified through deaths and abuse of countless people in their care to be responsible for anyone’s well-being.  The vast majority of immigrant families already have family or friends in the U.S. to support them. Instead of continuing the inhumane policy of caging families, the Biden Administration must shut down Karnes and Dilley and fund existing grassroots community efforts to welcome immigrant families.”


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.