Washington, DC — Today American Immigration Lawyers Association, American Immigration Council, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Detention Watch Network, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Immigrant Justice Center and the National Immigration Project (NIPNLG) sent a request to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the OIG for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requesting a formal review into the implementation of President Biden’s Executive Order (EO) phasing out the use of private prisons by the DOJ. The request was supported by 85 immigrant and human rights groups that delivered a complementary letter to the Inspectors General demanding the findings be made public amid the Biden administration’s troubling pattern of immigration detention expansion contradicting the very spirit of the executive order and his own campaign promises.
Just over a year since the executive order was implemented, advocates have documented multiple instances in which the federal government has allowed for the creation of “work-around” or “pass-through” third-party contracts to extend the life of private detention facilities. These work-arounds have included new contracts with DHS as well as new DOJ intergovernmental service agreements (IGA) with county governments who then contract with private prison corporations for operations, despite the EO’s clear language that “privately operated” facilities should be phased out.
Troubling events in the first year of the order’s implementation, include:
- In September 2021 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the reopening of Moshannon Valley Correctional Center, a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) jail in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, which closed in March 2021 after the DOJ declined to renew its contract with GEO. Despite the jail’s history of abuse and neglect, the facility is now operating as an ICE detention center.
- GEO Group has signed an agreement to expand the Folkston ICE Processing Center in Georgia into the part of its prison complex that closed in September 2021 due to the end of a BOP contract. The expansion would increase ICE detention capacity by 1800 beds to make it the largest immigration detention center in the country.
- Negotiations between ICE and private prison companies regarding closed prisons have been reported around the country, including in Tipton County, Tennessee, Leavenworth, Kansas, and Howard County, Texas.
ICE’s immigration detention system is made up of a network of approximately 200 jails across the country – 79 percent of people in ICE custody are held in privately owned or operated facilities. ICE, the Bureau of Prisons, and the U.S. Marshals Service — account for more than half of all revenue for the two largest private prison corporations — CoreCivic and GEO Group which advocates say is at odds with the administration’s goal of phasing out the use of privately operated facilities. Instead, the letter says Biden’s executive order should be extended to include DHS contracts with private prison corporations and local governments as a first step to reducing reliance on immigration detention as a whole and shutting down detention facilities for good.
Setareh Ghandehari, advocacy director of Detention Watch Network, said:
“Overall we’re seeing a pattern of detention expansion, inconsistent and disappointing implementation of the DOJ executive order, and continued reliance on immigration detention from the Biden administration which equates to broken promises and continued human suffering. The DHS and DOJ OIGs review and public report is sorely needed to guard against further expansion that will come at great economic and human cost. The Biden administration must reverse course now by phasing out the use of detention in the immigration system by ensuring that the executive order on private prisons is followed in both letter and spirit and by extending the order to include immigration detention as a first step to ending the detention system in its entirety.”
Maribel Hernández Rivera, ACLU deputy national political director, said:
“A year after President Biden issued an executive order ending the Justice Department’s use of private prisons, business is booming for private prison corporations. Companies with abysmal human rights records have seized on Biden’s failure to include private immigration detention in his executive order and to implement many of the humane reforms he promised. Immigrants are paying the brutal price of President Biden’s inaction. It’s past time the Biden administration end all contracts with for-profit, private prison corporations.”
Amy Fischer, Americas Advocacy Director at Amnesty International USA, said:
“The Biden Administration’s inaction on immigration detention has only led to a tacit endorsement and expansion of the cruel, deadly system by private prison companies. This is greed, pure and simple. The Biden Administration’s executive order to end the use of private prisons for criminal detention has created a consequential boom for the same private prison companies who are motivated by profit rather than human rights. If the Biden Administration doesn’t change course and end ALL contracts with private prisons and local and county jails and end the use of arbitrary, mass detention once and for all, this will have a lasting and damaging legacy.”
Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director of the National Immigration Project, said:
“Our government’s fundamental responsibility to promote the well-being of our communities is in direct conflict with corporations that are motivated by greed to put the most people behind bars. Immigration detention, like all forms of incarceration, is inhumane and destructive to our communities. We call on the Biden administration to extend its executive order to include immigration detention and end all contracts with for-profit prison corporations, thereby taking a critical step in abolishing the immigration detention system in its entirety.”
Jennifer Ibañez Whitlock, Policy Counsel for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) said:
“It is not acceptable to see the Biden administration continue to pay private prison contractors to detain immigrants when proven, cost-effective and humane case management strategies are available. President Biden appears to have forgotten his campaign promises to preserve the dignity of immigrants, including asylum-seekers, and to end for-profit detention centers. AILA and our partners are here to keep that promise alive and ask the Office of the Inspector General to genuinely dig deep into President Biden’s executive order halting the use of private prisons by the DOJ and how it can possibly align with its continued funding of private prisons for immigrants in those very same facilities.”
Jesse Franzblau, Senior Policy Analyst for the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), said:
“Advocates have been working tirelessly to end ICE detention in their states, and have successfully fought to free people from ICE jails across the country. Instead of living up to campaign promises, tragically, the Biden administration has gone in the other direction by expanding the sprawling patchwork of ICE detention facilities, quietly signing new ICE contracts with private prison companies and local governments without public notice. The Inspectors General and Congress need to closely examine the ways in which ICE’s shady contracting schemes bypass accountability mechanisms, and investigate possible violations of the private prison ban.”
Jesselyn McCurdy, executive vice president of government affairs at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said:
“Instead of ending the federal government’s use of private prisons once and for all, the Biden administration failed to include immigration detention centers in its executive order on reforming our incarceration system. This failure allows the Department of Homeland Security to incarcerate immigrants in private facilities that have proven track records of denying basic human rights protections to people held in these facilities. The inspectors general of DOJ and DHS must investigate why their respective agencies have not met the administration’s goal of phasing out privately operated prison facilities, and President Biden should completely end the use of private prisons by the federal government.”
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.
With approximately eight million members, activists, and supporters, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nationwide organization that advances its mission of defending the principles of liberty and equality embodied in our Constitution and civil rights laws. For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in the courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the Constitution and laws of the United States.
The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) is a national non-profit organization that provides technical assistance and support to community-based immigrant organizations, legal practitioners, and all advocates seeking and working to advance the rights of noncitizens. NIPNLG utilizes impact litigation, advocacy, and public education to pursue its mission. Learn more at nipnlg.org. Follow NIPNLG on social media: National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild on Facebook, @NIPNLG on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 230 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.
Follow @amnestyusa on Twitter, Instagram @amnestyusa, and Facebook FB.com/amnestyusa. Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning global movement of more than 7 million people who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is the national association of more than 15,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. Founded in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that provides continuing legal education, information, professional services, and expertise through its 39 chapters and over 50 national committees.
The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation, and public education. Visit immigrantjustice.org and follow @NIJC on Twitter.