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Thousands of pages of documents reveal disarray of system that detains more than 400,000 people annually
 
Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center’s (NIJC’s) four-year Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) fight has resulted in the most comprehensive public release to date of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts and inspection reports for nearly 100 detention facilities. The thousands of pages of documents provide an unprecedented look into a failed system that lacks accountability, shields ICE from public scrutiny, and allows local governments and private prison companies to brazenly maximize profits at the expense of basic human rights.
 
As part of the first of a planned series of reports on transparency and human rights in the immigration detention system, NIJC today released 90 contracts between ICE and local governments and private prison companies that detained approximately 92 percent of the 33,400 detention population in fiscal year 2012. NIJC also released the deposition testimony of a former ICE contracting officer who revealed the government’s lack of protocol and quality control in detention contracting. NIJC will release a second report later this year analyzing and publishing ICE inspection reports for more than 100 detention facilities.
 
The report and links to the ICE contracts are available at immigrantjustice.org/publications/TransparencyandHumanRightsAugust2015
 
“When President Obama took office, he promised to make the federal government more transparent and make the immigration detention system more civil, but six years later we seem further from those ideals than ever,” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “ICE remains incredibly secretive about its contracting and auditing processes and how billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent to lock up immigrants and refugees.”
 
NIJC was represented in the case by pro bono lawyers from the global law firm Dentons US LLP.

NIJC’s review of thousands of pages of FOIA documents reveals:

 
  • The immigration detention contracting process is convoluted and obscure, suffering from a significant lack of uniformity in how contracts are created, executed, and maintained.
  • There is a lack of consistency and clarity as to which detention standards govern which facilities.
  • Forty-five facilities operate with indefinite contracts, mostly under outdated standards.
  • Tracking the taxpayer dollars ICE pays to local and private contractors to detain immigrants is daunting, and for some facilities, nearly impossible.
  • The practice of contracting and subcontracting with private entities shields many ICE detention facilities from public (taxpayer) scrutiny.
  • At least 12 contracts will expire in the next three years, providing an opportunity for advocates to raise questions about the efficacy of keeping these facilities open and ensure any modifications or extensions contain robust standards.

To address these issues, NIJC calls on ICE to:

  • Provide public access to information regarding the detention center contracting process.
  • Require that all facilities adhere to the 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards, the most current and robust set of ICE detention standards, without further delay.
  • End the practice of entering into indefinite contracts and revisit any existing contracts with no explicit renegotiation dates.
  • Refrain from entering into contracts agreeing to minimum bed guarantees.
  • Throughout the contracts negotiation process for individual detention facilities, engage with legal service providers, faith groups, and other local and national non-governmental organizations that visit facilities, to address human rights and due process issues they observe.
NIJC calls on Congress to increase government transparency and improve oversight of ICE by passing the following two pieces of legislation:
 
  1. Accountability in Immigration Detention Act, sponsored by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA): Originally introduced in 2014 and re-introduced in 2015, this bill establishes minimum detention standards to ensure that everyone in immigration detention is treated humanely.
  2. Protecting Taxpayers and Communities from Local Detention Quotas Act, sponsored by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Bill Foster (D-IL), and Smith:  Introduced in 2015, this bill prohibits ICE from entering into contracts that provide detention centers with prepaid, guaranteed numbers of filled beds each day.

“By making these contracts publicly available, we hope to enable families and advocates to have a better understanding of the relationships between local governments, private corporations, and the federal immigration apparatus that incarcerates their loved ones and community members—and be better equipped to challenge unjust detention practices at both the local and systemic level,” said NIJC Director of Detention Services Claudia Valenzuela. “We invite the public to examine the contracts themselves and help us ask the right questions about how our taxes are being spent to warehouse immigrants.”

NIJC, in partnership with allies in the immigration detention reform movement, will host a webinar series for activists to learn more about the FOIA documents and help begin a conversation about how to increase public scrutiny and build pressure to achieve more accountability in the broken ICE immigration detention system.

The first webinar will take place on Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 12 p.m. PDT/2 p.m. CDT/3 p.m. EDT.
Register at immigrantjustice.org/ICEcontractswebinar.