Biden must close ICE detention centers without expanding the government’s surveillance dragnet

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Washington, DC — In response to Axios reporting that the Biden administration is planning an expanded home confinement and curfew pilot program, Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network issued the following statement:

“Immigration detention is inhumane, abusive and unjust – full stop. Reducing the number of people behind bars in immigration detention should be the Biden administration’s utmost priority. It is deeply concerning that instead the administration is growing the detention system while simultaneously growing reliance on e-incarceration. The use of smartphone apps, ankle monitors, smartwatches and more exists within the broader surveillance dragnet of ICE’s “alternatives to detention” program.  As an enforcement agency these ICE “alternatives” have only proven to be another framework to restrict and surveil immigrants and further harm immigrant communities, and has to date not resulted in fewer people in detention. This new pilot now aims to impose even more restrictive surveillance. Biden is not “reinventing migrant detention” rather, ICE’s “alternatives to detention” are shamefully detention by another name.

Axios’ reporting that Biden has been “chipping away at the reliance on detention facilities” is completely false. Rather than a reduction in detention as promised along the campaign trail that was reaffirmed by Biden as recently as April 2021, the administration has instead embarked on a troubling pattern of detention expansion. A clear example: In September 2021 ICE announced the reopening of Moshannon Valley Correctional Center, a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility 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, the largest in the northeast. The reopening of Moshannon as a privatized ICE detention facility contradicts the spirit of the Biden administration’s executive order, and is at odds with his stated goal of phasing out the use of privately operated facilities and reducing reliance on immigration detention. 

The ask of Congress to fund as many as 350,000 people in ICE “alternatives to detention” is appalling and goes against what immigrant rights advocates have been vehemently fighting for: freedom and dignity for immigrants and people seeking asylum navigating their immigration case. Congress should be investing funds in vital programs and services that respond to real need, including affordable housing, community healthcare and environmental protections, not writing a blank check for their systematic detention.

We demand the Biden administration implement the following provisions in its forthcoming memo:

  • Releasing people from detention and halting transfers within the ICE system and from jails and prisons
  • Shutting down detention centers, ending detention contracts and immediately stopping all efforts to expand the system
  • Shrinking the pipeline to detention, including by ending police-ICE collaboration and restoring access to asylum at the border without the use of detention or surveillance programs
  • Ending the use of invasive compulsory surveillance (ATD) programs in favor of opt-in community support, not new forms of detention and surveillance that limit freedom and harm communities.

Without a reduction of people in ICE custody, the permanent closure of detention facilities and cuts to ICE’s budget, the administration’s forthcoming memo will ring hollow. Detention, in all of its forms, must be abolished.”


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.