DHS directs end to immigration detention in two jails under investigation

DHS directs end to immigration detention in two jails under investigation
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The Biden administration is ending two Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention contracts following investigations into the sheriffs offices' treatment of detainees.

A memo from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasHillicon Valley: Senate report finds major cyber shortcomings in federal agencies | Gig firms seek Mass. ballot question to classify workers as contractors | Blizzard's president steps down after workplace protests Hillicon Valley: Social media giants fail to block 84 percent of antisemitic content: report | White House cyber chief backs new federal bureau to track threats Bipartisan governors press Biden administration on Canadian border restrictions MORE directs ICE to sever agreements with the Bristol County, Mass., Sheriff’s Office and "prepare to discontinue the use" of another facility in Ocilla, Ga.

“Allow me to state one foundational principle: we will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention,” he wrote in a memo to acting ICE Director Tae Johnson.

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The Georgia facility came under fire after a whistleblower complaint alleging staff performed forced hysterectomies on female detainees there. Staff members in the Massachusetts facility allegedly used flash grenades, pepper balls and canines against detainees. 

It’s the first move by the Biden administration to scrap so-called 287(g) agreements that allow local law enforcement to assist ICE by carrying out some immigration enforcement duties.

The program, started under former President Clinton, was dramatically expanded under the Trump administration. President BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries FDA aims to give full approval to Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day: report Overnight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response MORE pledged to repeal them during the campaign, arguing they “undermine trust and cooperation” between law enforcement and the communities they serve. 

Though largely applauded by immigration advocate groups, many said the move was only a first step in delivering on a campaign promise.

“The Biden administration must ensure that today’s announcements mark the first in a series of steps to shutter ICE detention sites, and end 287(g) agreements, nationwide,” Naureen Shah, with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “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.”

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It’s an issue likely to trail Biden. One of his April rallies was interrupted by protesters calling for an end to ICE detention centers.

"I agree with you," Biden called back. "I’m working on it, man. Give me another five days."

“Private detention centers — they should not exist and we are working to close all of them,” he said.

But beyond detention centers, Johnson has expressed some resistance to ending ICE’s relationship with local law enforcement.

“It doesn’t have to be signing up for [the] 287(g) program but we just want to keep those lines of communication open,” he said at a hearing earlier this month, adding that “there is lots of middle ground out there.”

Beyond the federal investigation into both facilities, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey determined in December that the Bristol facility showed “callous disregard for the well-being of immigration detainees” and violated detainee’s human rights.

“This is great news given the documented history of abuse within both facilities,”  said Jorge Loweree, policy director at the American Immigration Council. “It’s time for us to move away from a system where we spend billions of dollars detaining record numbers of immigrants at great risk of harm.”