Democrats applaud DHS review of immigrant detention centers

Democrats applaud DHS review of immigrant detention centers
© Getty Images

Liberal Democrats are cheering the Obama administration's decision to consider ending the use of private companies for immigrant detention centers. 

The lawmakers have long accused the private companies of putting profit ahead of the safety, health and human rights of detainees. In the wake of the Justice Department's recent move to phase out private prisons, the Democrats want the Department of Homeland Security to adopt the same policy for detention facilities. 


“This step is a tacit admission that the corporations who profit by locking up desperate adults and children undermine our decency as a nation," Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said Monday in a statement.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay MORE (I-Vt.), who promoted a broad array of criminal justice reforms during his failed run at the White House, offered a similar message.

“The Department of Homeland Security should follow the lead of the Department of Justice and phase out for-profit, privately run immigration detention facilities," Sanders said. "These private prisons cost more and are less humane.” 

In a statement released Friday, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the creation of a new internal panel "to review our current policy and practices concerning the use of private immigration detention and evaluate whether this practice should be eliminated." 

"I asked that the Subcommittee consider all factors concerning ICE’s detention policy and practice, including fiscal considerations," Johnson said, referring to DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch. 

The new panel, a subcommittee of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, has been asked to submit a written report by the end of November.

A shift by DHS away from private detention centers could affect even more people than the DOJ's recent move; there are more than 24,500 detainees in privately run DHS facilities, versus roughly 22,100 inmates in privately run prisons, according to the administration.  

Announced Aug. 18, the DOJ's decision to shutter its private prisons was largely based on a review by the agency's inspector general, which found that "in a majority of the categories we examined, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable [Bureau of Prisons] institutions." 

Citing the DOJ's move, Johnson said the new panel will "evaluate whether … [ICE] should move in the same direction." 

The new DHS review marks something of a shift for the agency, which initially defended the track record of its facilities — public and private — after the DOJ announcement.  

Private prison companies, which have rejected the DOJ's inspector general report, were quick to condemn the agency's phase-out decision. Still, some are welcoming the new DHS review, expressing confidence that their management record will withstand scrutiny. 

"We’ve worked with the federal government to provide solutions to pressing immigration challenges for more than 30 years, and we welcome this review of our long-standing relationship," Jonathan Burns, spokesman for the Corrections Corporation of America, which runs several immigrant detention centers, said in an email. 

"This effort builds on the unfettered, daily, onsite access ICE officials have to our facilities and the thousands of government audits we’re subject to each year," he added. "We’re proud of the quality and value of the services we provide and look forward to sharing that information with [the inspectors]."

Liberal Democrats have a different view. Grijalva warned that anything short of ending the use of private detention centers would make the DHS complicit in any abuses that occur. 

"Until they [bar private facilities], their association with this industry will continue to besmirch their reputation as servants of the American people, and prolong the black eye that for-profit detention has given our nation’s reputation around the world,” he said.