Status Check: 100 days in office, Biden has yet to meaningfully address ICE’s detention system

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Washington, DC — In response to the Biden administration’s first 100 days in office, Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network (DWN) offered the following statement:

“The day before President Biden’s inauguration, DWN outlined key priorities for the administration to address within its first 100 days to begin to undo the criminalization, punitive nature, and ongoing suffering caused by the inhumane immigration detention system.” 

The following is a status check on these priorities: 

  • Repealing the hate-filled immigration policies of the Trump era. Status check: The Migrant Protection Protocols Program was suspended and the Muslim ban rescinded. However, Trump-era policies and pandemic immigrant visa backlog have yet to be fully addressed, leaving families impacted by the Muslim ban unable to see their loved ones. The Biden administration has kept in place Trump’s Title 42 policy which has been used to expel people back to the countries they fled without access to asylum, particularly targeting Black migrants. 
  • Issuing a moratorium on deportations and interior enforcement, while ensuring that the cases of anyone that remains in detention move forward so that people don’t languish behind bars. Status check: After an initially encouraging day one on January 20 with the issuance of a 100-day deportation moratorium, the administration's action was swiftly blocked by a lawsuit out of Texas rendering it inactive. As a result, deportations have continued under the Biden administration, and despite great authority to exercise discretion to release individuals, DHS continues to target and detain immigrants. ICE has also issued two sets of enforcement priorities, the latter further criminalizing and widening the scope of who ICE can target and detain.
  • Releasing people from immigration detention amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the interest of the health of those detained and the public. Status check: The year began with the lowest number of people in ICE detention in 20 years. Recently however, the number of people has been gradually trending up. At the end of February there were 13,890 people in ICE custody, now there are 15,830 people in ICE detention centers across the country. Additionally, there have been 12,549 total confirmed COVID-19 cases, the cumulative total of people who have tested positive with COVID-19 since ICE began tracking in February 2020.
  • Closing detention facilities, including immediately ending all contracts with private prison corporations and state and local governments as a first step towards ending the harmful detention system entirely. Status check: No ICE detention centers have shut down. Three detention contracts in Wakulla, Florida, Hardin County, Iowa, and Howard County, Maryland, however are set to end due to local efforts. Biden did sign an executive order to phase out private prisons within the Department of Justice, but it does not impact ICE facilities that are under the Department of Homeland Security. 
  • Dramatically cutting funding to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the President’s budget proposal, including at minimum a 75 percent cut to the detention budget.Status check: Biden’s FY22 topline budget calls for $52 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a slight increase from the Trump administration’s FY21 enacted level.
  • Ending state and local entanglement with immigration enforcement, reducing the pipeline to detention and deportation. Status check: No progress as deportation programs such as 287g, Secure Communities, and the Criminal Alien Program that funnel people into ICE custody remain in place. 

“While we were encouraged by Biden’s introduction of the U.S. Citizenship Act within his first 100 days as a welcomed first step in addressing the bigotry and cruelty entrenched in our immigration system, we cannot continue to exclude, target and detain some to provide relief for others. The administration must begin to meaningfully address this country’s reliance on the deportation machine that tears loved ones apart, starting with immigration detention.”

“Thus far it is clear that the greatest impact on dismantling ICE’s detention system is the result of communities across the country uniting together to reject the targeting and jailing of their loved ones, friends, coworkers and neighbors. In addition to the contracts that have been cut, local communities have also advanced state legislation to reduce immigration detention in Maryland, New Jersey and in Washington state where HB1090 was signed into law earlier this month banning the operation of a private detention facility or prison by any person, business, state or local government entity.” 

“This win is significant and underscores the groundswell of communities across the country leading efforts to shut down ICE detention centers as the Biden administration has been woefully slow to act.”

“The evidence for why the administration needs to take immediate action on ICE detention is overwhelming. We urge the Biden administration to release people from detention, shut down detention centers and end detention contracts now. The 'First Ten to Communities Not Cages' campaign provides a roadmap of where to begin.”


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.