Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) applauds members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council who today rejected the finding of a draft subcommittee report which concluded that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has no choice but to continue relying on for-profit private prison companies to detain immigrants.
The draft report prioritized ICE’s fiscal considerations over human lives, even as it acknowledged the agency’s fundamental failures to hold detention facility operators accountable for human rights violations. Most startlingly, the subcommittee based its findings on the assumption that the federal government will continue the mass detention of immigrants, including asylum seekers and long-time residents of the United States. During a public comment session, advocates and advisory council members cited these concerns and criticized the report. At the end of the meeting, 17 advisory council members voted to accept the report’s accounting of the system’s current failings but aligned themselves with a dissenting opinion (contained in footnote 14 of the report) rejecting the report’s finding that ICE must continue its reliance on private prisons. One member opposed the draft report in full, and five supported it.
“The mass incarceration of asylum seekers and long-time United States residents has increased dramatically over the past year, and it was heartening to see the council members acknowledge that this practice should be questioned and scrutinized,” said Heidi Altman, NIJC’s director of policy, who was present at the public meeting where the committee voted on whether to accept the draft report’s findings. “All Americans should be alarmed by our government’s willingness to work hand-in-hand with a profit-driven industry to hold immigrant men, women and children in a system that has proven itself incapable of protecting basic human safety and well-being. It is deeply troubling that the subcommittee’s draft report argues that this system must be sustained in order to accommodate potential future mass apprehensions of immigrants, and we’re grateful this false premise was roundly rejected by the majority of the council.”
The draft report was released days after two immigrants died at privately operated facilities. A Guatemalan woman was the 15th immigrant to die at Corrections Corporation of America’s Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. A few days later, a Brazilian man died at South Texas Detention Center, operated by GEO Group. The subcommittee’s draft report failed to engage any of the extensive testimony and evidence submitted by advocates who regularly represent detained immigrants about medical neglect, due process violations, and other forms of mistreatment that regularly occur in private detention facilities.
The subcommittee’s draft report does make critical recommendations for reform of ICE’s inspections and oversight systems. NIJC and other human rights organizations have demanded such reforms for years, and encourage President Obama and President-elect Trump to heed these recommendations. But efforts to rein in ICE’s out-of-control detention system must start with a massive reduction in its size. NIJC thanks those members of the Homeland Security Advisory Committee who spoke out today and asked critical questions about whether the United States should continue the large-scale detention of immigrants in the first place.