Migrant Child Detention

A young migrant waits for his turn to take a shower at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley in Donna, Texas on March 30, 2021.

(Photo: Dario Lopez-Mills/AFP via Getty Images)

200 Rights Groups Call On Biden to End 'Cruel' Expansion of Immigrant Detention

"This suffering does not advance any rational policy goal," said the advocacy groups. "It merely exists to further the political goal of deterrence, which is cruel, inhumane, and misguided."

Citing ample evidence of human rights abuses in U.S. immigration detention centers, 200 advocacy groups on Thursday demanded that the Biden administration reverse course on a planned expansion of detention facilities and said President Joe Biden's "further entrenching" of the government's reliance on detaining migrants marks "an utter betrayal" of his campaign promises.

The president's signing of a spending bill last month provided $3.4 billion for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), clearing the way for the agency to make space to jail 41,500 immigrants per day in facilities across the country.

After Biden campaigned on ending the use of for-profit detention centers, said the groups, he took office at a time when fewer than 15,000 people were being held in immigration detention facilities—which gave him "a remarkable opportunity to wind down a wasteful and abusive system."

But after the president's 2023 and 2024 budget requests signaled an intention of reducing detention funding—with ICE itself recommending that numerous facilities be closed due to "critical staffing shortages that have led to safety risks and unsanitary living conditions"—Biden last year requested supplemental detention funding as commentators and Republicans in Congress hammered the administration for allowing so-called "chaos" at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Your FY2025 budget request sought funding for 34,000 beds instead of the 25,000 sought in the two previous cycles," wrote the groups, including Amnesty International USA, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), and the Texas Civil Rights Project. "The result is unsurprising: the FY2024 spending bill you signed provides ICE $3.4 billion to jail an average of 41,500 immigrants per day, historically high funding surpassing all four years of the Trump administration."

The groups, which provide legal aid and other assistance to people who have been detained as migrants, said many of their clients "carry lifelong scars from the mistreatment and dehumanization they endured because of the United States' reliance on detention, mostly through private prisons and county jails."

The administration is seeking to expand a system, said the groups, in which the jails and prisons used have been found to "operate under insufficient standards."

The organizations cited a 2018 ACLU reportthat found inadequate medical care contributed to the deaths of more than half of the detained immigrants who died in custody between December 2015-April 2017; a 2021 case in which an LGBTQ+ man reported "physical and homophobic verbal abuse" at a facility in Louisiana; and the finding by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) that the use of solitary confinement in detention centers "regularly meets the United Nations' definition of torture."

Biden signed the spending bill two weeks after Charles Daniel, a 61-year-old migrant from Trinidad and Tobago, died at a detention center operated by the private contractor GEO Group after being held in solitary confinement for four years. ICE has placed people in solitary confinement over 14,000 times in the last five years, according to PHR, for an average of 27 days each; U.N. experts say exceeding 15 days in solitary confinement constitutes torture.

"This suffering does not advance any rational policy goal," said the groups on Thursday. "Detention does not provide an efficient or ethical means of border processing, and it certainly does not indicate to migrants that they are welcome in the United States. It merely exists to further the political goal of deterrence, which is cruel, inhumane, and misguided—as even the most punitive forms of detention have been proven not to deter people from seeking safety or a better life."

Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks government data, found that as of April 7, more than 61% of ICE detainees have no criminal record, while "many more have only minor offenses, including traffic violations."

"Increasing the incarceration of immigrants is a grave mistake," said the groups, "and we urgently implore you to reverse course."

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