Washington, DC — Today, the Biden administration marks one year in office. Detention Watch Network, along with other immigration advocates, are disappointed and frustrated that Biden broke his campaign promises to undo the criminalization and punitive nature of the immigration detention system. Rather than a reduction in detention as promised along the campaign trail that was reaffirmed by Biden as recently as April of 2021, the administration has instead embarked on a troubling pattern of detention expansion and has embraced Trump-era anti-immigrant policies, including the harmful “Remain in Mexico” program and Title 42 border closure and expulsions.
The administration’s decisions have occurred amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic which disproportionately impacts people in detention, jails and prisons. The administration has actively opposed attempts to provide COVID-19 protections to detained immigrants, disregarding the safety of detained individuals and guidance by public health experts.
Reflecting on the past year, Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network offered the following statement:
“We are beyond disappointment – people across the country are angry. Biden has not only failed to live up to his campaign promises, he has embraced Trump-era policies to be his own, resulting in continued harm, trauma, and even death in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) detention system.
Detention Watch Network has evaluated the administration’s actions against his rhetoric in the newly released, Biden’s First Year: Rhetoric versus Reality Scorecard. Here are a couple of examples:
- Rhetoric: President Biden vowed to end prolonged detention, end for-profit immigration detention centers, and invest in community-based alternatives to detention.
- Reality: The Biden administration failed to halt expansion efforts and instead has extended existing detention contracts, signed new contracts, and solicited proposals from private prison corporations for former DOJ (BOP and United States Marshals Service (USMS) facilities whose contracts ended under President Biden’s Executive Order. In September 2021, ICE reopened Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Pennsylvania, a former BOP jail, as a privately run ICE detention center. Reports suggest that private prison company giant CoreCivic is considering contracts with ICE and local governments to take over expiring USMS contracts at West Tennessee Detention Facility and the Leavenworth Detention Center in Kansas. ICE is also considering the expansion of the El Paso Service Processing Center in Texas and Folkston ICE Processing Center.
- Rhetoric: President Biden committed to address the COVID-19 pandemic by listening to public health experts and protecting those most vulnerable to the virus.
- Reality: The Biden administration failed to release people from immigration detention and reduce detention numbers. Instead, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and contrary to recommendations by public health experts and even court orders to release people, the number of people in ICE detention has skyrocketed from a 20 year low at the start of the administration. As detention numbers rose, the administration also actively opposed attempts to provide COVID-19 protections to detained immigrants, disregarding the safety of detained individuals and guidance by public health experts. In August 2021, the Administration appealed a federal court order in Fraihat v. ICE requiring ICE to vaccinate medically vulnerable people in its custody. This order followed multiple previous court orders in Fraihat criticizing ICE for systemic failures in their response to the pandemic. Most recently, the administration also argued before the Supreme Court in favor of denying the right to a bond hearing for certain people held in ICE detention for longer than six months.
“The continuation of harmful Trump-era policies and shameful inaction to reduce the detention system has made it clear that Biden is not accountable to immigrant communities. These are no longer just ‘Trump policies,’ these are ‘Biden policies,’ where the administration bears full responsibility for the suffering they’ve inflicted on thousands of individuals in detention and the loved ones and families that are fighting to bring them home and deeply feel their absence.”
“Regardless of where someone is from or why they migrate to the United States, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Detention is inhumane, morally and financially costly, and completely unnecessary. As we head into the second year of the Biden administration, we remain steadfast in our demand to #FreeThemAll and end the use of immigration detention in its entirety.”
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 detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.