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Demonstrators protest U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention in New York City on February 6, 2021. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

'A Stunning About-Face': Rights Group Lambast Biden for Expanded For-Profit Immigrant Detention

"For ICE and the private prison industry, cruelty—and profit—is the point."

Andrea Germanos

Human rights organizations on Wednesday criticized the Biden administration over an expansion of privatized immigration detention they said represented an "inexcusable" walk-back of a campaign promise.

"When will Biden act on his promise to bring justice and fairness to the immigration system?"
—Setareh Ghandehar, Detention Watch Network

"This is a stunning about-face from the Biden administration and its stated commitment to end privatized immigration detention," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, in a statement.

Rebuke from the ACLU, as well as the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and Detention Watch Network (DWN), followed the signing Tuesday of a five-year contract between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and for-profit prison company the GEO Group to run what had been the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania as an immigrant detention center.

Up until March, the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center was a federal prison operated by Geo Group, but an executive order in January from President Joe Biden phased out Department of Justice contracts with private prisons. The order did not, however, cover other federal agencies that contract with private prisons, including ICE.

The development is particularly egregious, said Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, because "abusive conditions within ICE detention centers, particularly those run by private prison companies, are pervasive and well-documented."

According to Heidi Altman, director of policy at NIJC, the new contract is just the latest in a number of troubling moves by the administration.

Biden, she said in a statement, "entered office promising to address human rights abuses and racial injustice in the immigration system." And yet, she continued, "his administration has increased by thousands the number of people locked in ICE detention, extended existing contracts with private prison companies in places where local governments have explicitly rejected ICE detention, entered a contract to detain immigrant teenagers, and now is signing agreements to open a massive new for-profit immigrant detention center."

"For ICE and the private prison industry, cruelty—and profit—is the point," Altman said. "Unfortunately, it seems like President Biden is embracing that cruelty more every day."

In a statement pointing to "ICE's fundamentally flawed system," DWN advocacy director Setareh Ghandehari said the development "disavows the very foundational principles of the executive order."

"The perverse financial incentives that drive incarceration are ever present and thriving in ICE detention," said Ghandehari. "When will Biden act on his promise to bring justice and fairness to the immigration system?"

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