Nationwide — When the COVID-19 pandemic began, immigrant rights advocates raised the alarm over Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) putting the lives of people in detention at even more risk. As the federal government declares this public health emergency over, calls are intensifying for the Biden administration to address an array of cruel immigration detention practices and policies. Local communities across the country are proposing state legislation that would end ICE facility contracts as a step toward shutting down detention centers entirely. Decades of abuse in the immigration detention system are well documented by people detained, advocates, medical professionals, and even the Department of Homeland Security’s own Office of Inspector General.
Bills in New Mexico, New York, and Massachusetts would reduce the use of the immigration detention system.
Key provisions in the individual state bills and resulting impacts include:
- SB 172 in New Mexico, or the ‘Dignity Not Detention’ bill, prohibits New Mexico governmental entities from entering and renewing contracts for the purpose of immigration detention, prohibits New Mexico governmental entities from receiving any payments related to immigration detention, and requires any New Mexico governmental entities with existing immigration detention contracts to exercise the termination provision. Currently, the bill is before the Senate Floor. Given the short sessions in New Mexico, advocates hope that successful passage in one chamber this year will be a step towards successful passage of the bill in the next legislative session.
- S306 Salazar /A4354 Reyes in New York, or the ‘NY Dignity Not Detention Act’ prohibits NY governmental entities from renewing any existing immigration detention contracts, requires any NY governmental entities with existing immigration detention contracts to exercise the termination provision in the contract and prohibits any person, business, or private entity from owning or operating immigration detention facilities. Currently, this bill is in the corrections committee in both houses.
- S997 in Massachusetts, or an ‘Act Relative to Massachusetts State Sovereignty’, prohibits law enforcement agencies, municipalities, or other subdivisions from entering into a new agreement to arrest or detain any person for the purpose of civil immigration detention. The bill also prohibits extending and renewing existing agreements or remaining in an existing agreement longer than ninety days from the date on which this act takes effect. Currently, this bill has been referred to the Committees on the Judiciary.
In recent years, six other states have successfully passed similar legislation, including California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. In New Jersey, CoreCivic is suing the governor and attorney general to keep the last immigration detention center that is operational in New Jersey open. Yet another example of the perverse financial incentives that drive immigrant incarceration.
“Detention centers in the states proposing legislation are emblematic of how the immigration detention system as a whole is inherently abusive, unjust, and fatally flawed below repair, “ said Luis Suarez, Field Advocacy Manager at Detention Watch Network. “Local communities are taking steps to ensure that every person has the right to move and live freely with dignity and respect, which starts with ending immigration detention.”
Advocates advancing bills in their communities issued the following statements:
K.A, Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN) member and formerly detained person in Plymouth, MA said:
“I strongly believe that the contract with ICE in Plymouth, MA, should be shut down because it tears families apart and belittles humans. Instead, the money should be allocated to community development and immigrant programs.”
Sophia Genovese, Supervising Attorney at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, said:
“State advocacy to stop complicity in the caging and torture of immigrants is critical now more than ever. In New Mexico, we have witnessed deaths caused by medical neglect, impermissible use of solitary confinement, as well as egregious conditions such as rat and bug infestations, crumbling infrastructure, sewage spills, and inedible food. Despite the filing of numerous complaints and engagements with the Department of Homeland Security, ICE and the private entities they contract with are seldom held accountable and these human rights violations persist. States have the power to regulate the health and safety of immigrants within their state. We urge New Mexico, and every other state considering similar legislation, to exercise such authority and require the termination of immigration detention contracts in their jurisdictions.”
Rosa Cohen-Cruz, Director of Immigration Policy for the Bronx Defenders, and ICE OUT NY/NJ member said:
"In New York State we have seen firsthand the horrific conditions within ICE detention. These jails cut people off from their communities, their loved ones, and often their legal representation. They result in people giving up their rights in their immigration cases as the only means to escape detention. The New York Dignity not Detention Act is an important step to getting ICE out of our state and ending ICE detention in New York and nationwide. We cannot wait for the Biden administration and the federal government to take action against the widespread abuses inherent to immigrant detention."
The Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN) is a network working to reduce the violence of the ICE detention system in Massachusetts and for people with a connection to Massachusetts.
The New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC) seeks to advance justice and equity by empowering low-income immigrant communities through collaborative legal services, advocacy, and education.
The Bronx Defenders (BxD) works to radically transform how low-income people in the Bronx are represented in the legal system and, in doing so, to transform the system itself. The practice informed policy team brings a deep understanding of the institutional harm embedded in the immigrant detention system, and works towards the goal of ending ICE detention in New York and nationally. BxD is part of the ICE OUT NY/NJ Coalition.
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.