It’s a rough day for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and that’s a good thing. The Washington Post reports that in a major victory for immigrants and their advocates, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas announced on Thursday that the Biden administration is set to end detention contracts at two facilities in Georgia and Massachusetts.
The Georgia site to be shuttered, Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), is currently under federal investigation following allegations that detained women were forced to undergo unwanted procedures by a notorious gynecologist. Azadeh Shahshahani, one of the leading advocates fighting to close the privately operated facility, called the announcement a “momentous victory,” and “the result of years of organizing & exposing the human rights violations by orgs on the ground.”
“Irwin is the first detention center in Detention Watch Network’s ‘First Ten to Communities Not Cages’ campaign, launched in February, to be on the path to closure,” DWN said in a statement received by Daily Kos. Irwin was also among the sites recommended by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to be shut down. “Today’s announcements show the Biden administration’s willingness to decisively break from the immigrants’ rights abuses of prior administrations,” senior advocacy and policy counsel Naureen Shah said.
The Post reports that Mayorkas also ordered ICE “to immediately terminate its contract” with the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office in Massachusetts, as well as termination of its 287(g) agreement, a flawed and racist policy that allows local law enforcement to act as mass deportation agents.
Like Irwin, Bristol County Detention Center is also under investigation for allegations of abuses against detained immigrants. WBUR reported last year that the state attorney general’s office had determined the sheriff’s office had used violent force against detained immigrants, include the deployment of chemical agents. The Post reports that an administration official said those allegations played a part in Mayorkas’ decision to end the contracts. “In a memo to ICE directing the changes Thursday, Mayorkas said his ‘foundational principle’ is that ‘we will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention,’” the report said.
“We welcome the Biden administration’s move to address two prime examples of the cruelty and senselessness of our country’s immigration system—but these are not outliers, they are part and parcel of a racist and broken system that needs to be reformed from the ground up,” Shah continued. “That starts by shutting down ICE detention sites throughout the country and ending the 287(g) program once and for all.”
“In today’s announcement we also learned that DHS will conduct a ‘sweeping review’ of detention,” tweeted Silky Shah, Detention Watch Network executive director. “As anyone who has been following this issue for even a short period of time knows, the evidence for ending this system is overwhelming. There is no humane way to detain immigrants.” She also took a moment to honor the fearless immigrants who have spoken out about abuses, some of whom have done so under the threat of deportation. “ICE attempts to deport multiple witnesses in gynecologic surgery scandal,” Vice News reported last year.
“But what’s most clear to me is that this win happened because of the movement that includes people currently and formerly detained, their loved ones, organizers, lawyers, advocates, and journalists, all of whom work tirelessly to expose the harms and free people from detention,” Shah continued. Advocates also expressed concern over the next steps for immigrants currently at these facilities, saying they should be released (which ICE has every ability to do), and simply not transferred to another facility. This appears to the case for Bristol. No women are currently being detained at Irwin.
“And as ICE detention sites close, the Biden administration must release the individuals detained there—rather than transfer them to detention sites elsewhere, which risks stranding these individuals far from their families and lawyers and exposes them to continued risks from COVID-19,” Shah said.