Today, the National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigration Project, and Detention Watch Network welcomed the announcement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will no longer use the Etowah County Jail (Etowah) in Alabama. This announcement is a credit to more than a decade of community organizing by Alabama immigrant rights activists and brave advocacy from people detained in the facility.
“These are the victories that I live for, my purpose. Knowing that less people will be subjected to the ongoing conditions in Etowah is a prayer answered. I just hope they continue to spotlight similar facilities,” said Karim Golding, who was detained in the Etowah County Detention Center for more than four years.
Today’s announcement also included news that ICE will not renew the guaranteed minimum contract provision for Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven, Florida and will pause usage of the facility. ICE also plans to modify the contracts for Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana and Alamance County Detention Center in Graham, North Carolina. While welcome, these changes fail to fully confront the abysmal human rights record at these jails and across the immigration detention system as a whole. In October 2021, two men detained at Glades filed a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) detailing inadequate medical care, physical assault, extended periods of solitary confinement, discriminatory abuse, and anti-Blackness they had experienced. In November 2021, CRCL investigators told ICE that the number of people detained at Winn should be “drawn down to zero until immediate health and safety concerns can be corrected.” Simply reducing the number of beds contracted to these detention centers does nothing to end the abuses happening inside them. Today’s announcement also notably excluded mention of Torrance County Detention Facility, whose closure was strongly recommended by the DHS Office of Inspector General just last week. Closing Etowah, terminating contracts at Glades, Winn, Alamance, and Torrance, and ensuring releases, not transfers from these facilities, must be only first steps toward dismantling the ICE detention system.
“Today’s announcement marks an important step in the right direction. While we celebrate this monumental win and the tireless community advocacy that made it possible, we must continue to ensure that people are released back to their communities and not transferred to other detention facilities,” Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director of the National Immigration Project. “The egregious conditions at Etowah are emblematic of the whole immigration detention system; countless investigations and reports have already shown that lives are in danger any time they are in ICE custody. To continue moving forward, the Biden administration must fully terminate contracts at Glades County Detention Center, Winn Correctional Center, and Alamance County Detention Center, and continue shutting down detention centers for good.”
“The closure of the Etowah detention center is an important victory for Alabama communities and the formerly detained people who have been working for years toward this goal,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy for the National Immigrant Justice Center. “We only wish that today’s announcement was that all four of these detention centers were being closed along with a broader plan to move toward phase out of the entire abusive system; such an announcement is at least a year overdue for an administration that came into office stating a commitment to bring humanity to immigration policy. The Biden administration must take bolder action to end immigration detention, and Congress needs to stop funneling tax dollars into a system that continues to perpetrate significant human rights violations.”
“People must be released back to their community and loved ones as they navigate their immigration case, not just transferred from one fraught detention center to another,” said Setareh Ghandehari, Advocacy Director, Detention Watch Network. “The Etowah County Detention Center exemplifies everything that is wrong with immigration detention and why the detention system must be abolished. The administration can and must do more to completely phase out the use of immigration detention by continuing to terminate contracts, shut down additional facilities and free people from detention.”
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 and Instagram.
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.
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.