For Immediate Release: May 20, 2021


We Are Home, Detention Watch Network, and partners welcome ICE detention announcement, call for additional actions to cut detention

Washington, DC — Today, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced it will cut the contracts of two detention facilities, Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, and the Bristol County Detention Center in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts. 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. The We Are Home campaign, including DWN and partner organizations, welcomed the DHS announcement as a positive – and long overdue – first step, and urged the agency to move aggressively to reduce detention numbers and close additional facilities this year.

In response to the announcement  immigrants’ rights advocates issued the following statements:

Lorella Praeli, Co-President of Community Change, said: 

“Today’s announcement is a welcome first step from DHS, and a testament to years of work by organizers and activists in Massachusetts, Georgia, and across the country. But it’s only a first step. Trump’s cruel and xenophobic deportation-first immigration policy relied on a massive detention infrastructure constructed under both Republican and Democratic administrations and funded annually by Congress. It’s long past time for a course-correction. President Biden’s commitment to an immigration policy that reflects our highest values as a nation must include an action plan to dramatically reduce and ultimately end detention.”

Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network, said:

“We applaud the Biden administration for finally taking a first step to address the inhumane immigration detention system. The end of ICE contracts at Irwin and Bristol are an important win for the immigrant rights movement and the growing demand to shut down detention centers nationwide. Immigrant lives are in jeopardy anytime they are in ICE custody, and we will continue to press the Biden administration to cut detention contracts, release people from ICE custody, and shut down detention centers for good. Simply put, everyone should be able to navigate their immigration case at home and in community — not behind bars in immigration detention.“

Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director of the National Immigration Project, said: 

“ICE systematically endangers the lives of thousands of immigrants and deprives them of their liberty each day. While this announcement is an important step in the right direction and a testament to the power of community advocacy and organizing, we hope it signals a truly transformed approach to immigration detention and enforcement. To build a ‘fair and humane’ immigration system, the Biden administration must put an end to the inherently inhumane immigration detention system, and must  decisively end the deportation pipeline that comes through 287(g) and similar programs.”

Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, said: 

“Human rights abuses are endemic to immigrant detention, often hidden by thick prison walls and barbed wire. Today we celebrate and honor the activists and movement leaders who were brave enough to tell their stories, culminating in this important announcement. We call on the Biden Administration to make sure this is only the first step toward ending all 287(g) agreements and eliminating the use of immigration detention, beginning with a dramatic reduction in the number of those detained.”

Naureen Shah, Senior Advocacy and Policy Counsel at the ACLU, said: 

“Today’s announcements show the Biden administration’s willingness to decisively break from the immigrants’ rights abuses of prior administrations. Far more can and must be done to pull the plug on a system that has squandered millions of taxpayer dollars and inflicted trauma and profound harm on hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their loved ones. To realize the promise of these reforms, 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. 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.”

Horrific accounts from detained immigrants at the Irwin County Detention Center were recently detailed in a DHS OIG complaint filed by Georgia-based groups and in a class action lawsuit describing multiple levels of abuse, including a pattern of invasive gynecological procedures performed on women held at the facility without informed consent. Bristol County also has a long history of abuse and neglect, as detailed in a recent State AG report and class action lawsuit.

The memo from the Department of Homeland Security indicates that ICE will end the 287(g) agreement with Bristol County – one of 148 287(g) agreements in place as of January 2021 – and promises a review of all ICE jails to identify additional facilities for closure.

Today’s announcement comes against the backdrop of a nearly 33 percent increase in the number of people in ICE custodysince the start of Biden’s presidency. Last week, the daily detained population passed 20,000. We Are Home urges DHS to reverse that alarming trend by continuing to cut detention contracts and ensuring people are released rather than simply transferred to other ICE jails.

In February, We Are Home sent comprehensive recommendations to DHS to overhaul enforcement and begin to dismantle the detention and deportation machinery that has devastated millions of families, mostly Black and Brown, and squandered billions of taxpayer dollars. These recommendations included 1) a comprehensive file review of all people in ICE custody, with a presumption of release, and 2) an end to the use of private prisons and state and local jails for ICE detention. The urgency to reduce the detained population is even greater during the pandemic, since people in jails and prisons face particular risk of contracting COVID. ICE reportedly has no centralized plan to provide vaccines for people in its custody.

We Are Home is a nationwide campaign to fight for immigrant communities on three fronts: prioritizing and demanding a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America; a moratorium and overhaul of interior enforcement; and broad affirmative relief from deportation. We Are Home is co-chaired by Community Change/Community Change Action; National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA)/Care in Action; Service Employees International Union (SEIU); United Farm Workers/UFW Foundation; and United We Dream.