Washington, DC — As calls are intensifying for the Biden administration to fulfill his campaign promise and address Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) deadly detention system, local communities are advancing legislation to take steps toward shutting down facilities and releasing people from ICE custody. Four bills in Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and Washington State would significantly reduce the use of immigration detention. The abuses of the detention system have been heavily documented by advocates, detained people, medical professionals and even the Department of Homeland Security’s own Office of Inspector General.
Key provisions in the individual state bills and resulting impacts include:
- HB 16 in Maryland, would prevent state or local entities from entering into any new detention contracts or renewing any existing contracts for immigration detention. For local entities that already have an existing contract, they must exercise their contract’s termination provision and terminate the contract by October 2022. This bill prohibits the state of Maryland and local governments from participating in the continued operation of detention facilities. If passed, the bill would prevent the possible jail expansions in Baltimore County and Sudlersville.
- HB1090 in Washington State, would immediately ban the operation of a private detention facility by any person, business or state or local government entity. The bill would eventually close the state’s notorious Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) once the contract expires. NWDC is operated by the GEO Group, Inc. where for years people have gone on hunger strike to protest their incarceration and demand freedom.
- AB 5207 in New Jersey, would prohibit the state, local government agencies, and private detention facilities operating in New Jersey from entering into, renewing, or extending immigration detention agreements. The legislation is a direct response to ICE’s issuance of two Requests for Information for additional capacity to detain immigrants in the New Jersey area.
The Washington State bill recently passed in the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support and will receive a Senate vote in the coming weeks. Maryland’s, HB 16 was heard in the House Judiciary Committee, New Jersey’s, AB 5207, is currently in the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, and New Mexico’s, HB 40 is in the House Appropriations & Finance Committee. The four states are joining an increasing trend of state governments not relying on the use of for-profit prisons. In total, 22 states — under both Democratic and Republican control do not use for-profit prisons for incarceration.
Advocates in New Mexico also pushed HB 40 that would have established a moratorium on new private detention contracts, prohibit extensions or expansions of existing contracts and phase out private detention facilities over several years as existing contracts expire. The bill would eventually impact the Otero County Processing Center operated by the Management Training Corporation, and the Cibola County Correctional Center and Torrance County Detention Facility, both operated by Core Civic. With the New Mexico legislative session ending this Saturday, the bill is not expected to move forward.
Advocates behind the bills issued the following statements:
Maru Mora Villalpando, member of La Resistencia in Washington state, said: “People detained at NWDC in Washington State have brought attention to the inhumane conditions they face day after day, they have proven that detention is torture and their incarceration is nothing but profit driven anti-immigrant policies. The fact that HB1090 passed the State House Legislature with such an overwhelming bipartisan support shows that ending for profit incarceration is not a debate anymore. We will continue fighting until HB1090 becomes law in our State, and not a single person remains incarcerated for immigration process.”
Chia-Chia Wang, Organizing and Advocacy Director at the American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program in New Jersey, said: “New Jersey’s banning detention bill is an important step forward in curbing immigration detention in the state and nationally. No one deserves to be in detention and the profiteering from incarcerating fellow human beings by private prison companies and county governments alike is unconscionable and must stop.”
Margaret Brown Vega, coordinator of Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention in the Chihuahuan Desert, said: “New Mexico is one of the states most reliant on private prison companies. Federal agencies, such as ICE, as well as the New Mexico Department of Corrections and several county governments, contract with private for-profit companies to incarcerate people in our state. Undoing these relationships of dependency that extend back several decades will not be easy. This year’s effort with HB 40 brought the issue of mass incarceration and the profiteering from it into sharper focus, making it further in the legislative process than any prior bill. Despite resistance by the Governor and many legislators, New Mexicans showed that they want an end to privatized detention in our state. We will continue to work to end for-profit detention in New Mexico.”
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.