SAN FRANCISCO – The National ACLU today called upon Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas to close 39 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities nationwide. The Yuba County Jail, which contracts with ICE, and the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Kern County, operated by private prison contractor GEO Group, are among six detention facilities in California identified by the ACLU for closure.
Both facilities are the subject of litigation by the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and community partners, which filed a class action lawsuit against ICE last year in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for exposing detainees to unreasonable risks of infection and death from COVID-19.
“The life-threatening COVID-19 outbreaks at Yuba County Jail and the Mesa Verde Detention Facility over the past year show that there is no safe way for ICE to continue to detain people,” said Maria Romani, Immigrants’ Rights Policy Attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “It is the most recent manifestation of an immigration detention system that is fundamentally cruel and unnecessary. We call on Secretary Mayorkas to shut down these facilities as a first step in decreasing the incarceration and criminalization of immigrant communities.”
The ACLU is calling on the Biden administration to close detention facilities that ICE improperly opened under the Trump administration, are in remote locations with compromised access to legal counsel and external medical care, and have documented patterns of inhumane conditions.
The Yuba County Jail and the Mesa Verde Detention Facility meet the latter two criteria. The Yuba County Jail has been under a court order to improve its inadequate medical care for 40 years. In 2019, detained people at Yuba County reported unsanitary conditions, lack of medical care, and cells without running water or light. With the emergence of COVID-19, conditions have only worsened. By January 2021, around half of people detained in the jail had been infected with COVID-19.
Similarly, the Mesa Verde Detention Facility has been found to be out of compliance with 12 of 16 detention standards by ICE’s Office of Detention Oversight, which identified deficiencies in areas including sexual assault prevention, use of force, food service, and medical care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE and GEO Group also allowed a massive outbreak to spread at the facility by refusing to test the population there and by comingling infected and non-infected people.
“The Biden administration was elected with a mandate to fix our broken immigration system, and immigrant detention is an early test of its resolve,” said Naureen Shah, Senior Advocacy and Policy Counsel at the ACLU. “Closing detention sites should be a no-brainer. Millions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted to maintain thousands of empty beds and keep asylum seekers and immigrants in inhumane and life-threatening conditions. The number of detained people is currently lower than it’s been in two decades: President Biden has a unique moment to shrink the infrastructure that’s been used to abuse and traumatize immigrants for decades. It’s time to end our nation’s newest system of mass incarceration of Black and Brown people.”
Fiscal Year 2020 was the deadliest year in ICE detention in 15 years. Last year alone, we saw reports of increased use of force, solitary confinement, patterns of sexual abuse, forced sterilization, and an utter failure to protect people from COVID-19. ICE’s extreme recklessness in handling the COVID-19 virus showed the blatant disregard it had for the health and wellbeing of detained people, as well as the extent to which it was willing to lie or obfuscate to avoid accountability.
Through COVID-19 related litigation, advocacy, and the shutdown of asylum under the Trump administration, detention rates dropped to rates lower than we’ve seen in two decades. In 2020, the litigation brought by the three California ACLU affiliates—Northern California, Southern California, and San Diego—resulted in the release of over 500 people from immigration detention across the state.
Nationwide, roughly 14,000 people are detained on an average day—just a quarter of the people who were detained at the peak in 2019. ICE is currently wasting over $1 million a day on guaranteed minimum bed space that isn’t being used. The ACLU’s list is intended as a starting point for the administration to begin ending the mass criminalization and default incarceration of immigrant communities.
Below is the full list of facilities the ACLU is calling to be shut down:
- Etowah County Jail, Alabama
- Eloy Detention Center, Arizona
- La Palma Correctional Center, Arizona
- Adelanto Detention Center, California
- Desert View Annex, California
- Imperial Regional Detention Facility, California
- Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility, California
- Otay Mesa Detention Center, California
- Yuba County Jail, California
- Baker’s County Sheriff’s Office, Florida
- Glades County Detention Center, Florida
- Krome North Service Processing Center, Florida
- Irwin County Detention Center, Georgia
- Stewart County Detention Center, Georgia
- Allen Parish Public Safety Complex, Louisiana
- Catahoula Correctional Center, Louisiana
- Jackson Parish Correctional Center, Louisiana
- LaSalle ICE Processing Center, Louisiana
- Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center, Louisiana
- Richwood Correctional Center, Louisiana
- River Correctional Center, Louisiana
- South Louisiana Correctional Center, Louisiana
- Winn Correctional Center, Louisiana
- Bristol County House of Corrections, Massachusetts
- Calhoun County Correctional Facility, Michigan
- Adams County Detention Facility, Mississippi
- The Shelburne County Jail, Minnesota
- Otero County Processing Center, New Mexico
- Okmulgee County Jail, Oklahoma
- Clinton County Correctional Facility, Pennsylvania
- Pike County Correctional Facility, Pennsylvania
- York County Prison, Pennsylvania
- Bluebonnet Detention Facility, Texas
- El Valle Detention Center, Texas
- T. Don Hutto Residential Center, Texas
- IAH Secure Adult Detention Facility, Texas
- Montgomery ICE Processing Center, Texas
- Prairieland Detention Facility, Texas
- Farmville Detention Center, Virginia
The letter to Sec. Mayorkas is online here.
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