WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration
announced Thursday that a detention facility in Georgia
where women claim they were subjected to unwanted medical procedures and a Massachusetts jail where inhumane conditions have been reported will no longer be used to detain immigrants.
The Department of Homeland Security announced that it would end contracts with the local government agency that operates the detention center in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and with the private operator of the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia.
Any detainees who the US believes should remain in custody will be transferred elsewhere, said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas
in announcing the move, which had been requested by immigrant advocates.
“Allow me to state one fundamental principle,” Mayorkas said, “we will not tolerate mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration
detention or detention under substandard conditions.”
Mayorkas stated that the closure is part of an effort to make “long-term improvements” to a detention system that advocates have long claimed detains people
for civil immigration offenses for far too long and in inhumane conditions.
It also reflects a larger effort to reverse the anti-immigrant policies that have characterized US policy under President Donald Trump
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data-gathering organization at Syracuse University, Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds approximately 19,000 noncitizens for removal at approximately 200 facilities across the country, a quarter of whom have no criminal record and many others have only minor offenses.
In a statement, DHS said it would “review concerns” about other detention facilities and that additional detention facilities could close.
“Today’s announcements demonstrate the Biden administration’s willingness to decisively depart from previous administrations’ violations of immigrants’ rights,” said Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, which recently called for the closure of 39 immigration detention centers across the country.
has called for the end of “default incarceration” of immigrants, as well as agreements with state and local governments that allow noncitizen prisoners to be transferred into ICE custody for deportation upon release.
Mayorkas has led an effort to relax some immigration policies, but he has publicly stated that noncitizens who pose
a threat to the public and have committed serious crimes should be detained pending removal from the country.
The Massachusetts facility was managed by the Bristol County Sheriff's Office, while the Georgia facility was managed by a private company under contract with ICE.
Since last year, members of Congress
and advocates have called for the Georgia facility to be closed after women detained there complained about being forced to undergo unnecessary gynecological procedures with dirty equipment and other unsanitary conditions.
DHS and the Justice Department
are looking into allegations of medical mistreatment, which a doctor involved in their care has denied, and Mayorkas has stated that steps will be taken to preserve evidence.
Immigrants detained at Irwin also had broader complaints about overall conditions, alleging that authorities at the detention center failed to take adequate precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19
“Given its extensive documented history of human rights
violations, Irwin should have been closed down long ago,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director for Project South, an advocacy group that has pushed ICE and the company that runs the facility to compensate women who have been subjected to unwanted procedures there.
The facility in Ocilla, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of Atlanta
, has housed ICE detainees as well as inmates from the US Marshals Service and Irwin County, and is run by the private Louisiana
company LaSalle Corrections.
The company had no immediate reaction to the announcement made on Thursday.
Immigrants held at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center in Massachusetts have also complained about a lack of COVID-19 precautions, overcrowding, and excessive use of force.
In December, the Massachusetts attorney general's office issued a damning report, concluding that officers violated detainee rights and used excessive force during an earlier-in-the-year disturbance.
A spokesman for Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who served as honorary chairman of former President Donald Trump's reelection campaign in Massachusetts, did not respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.
Local immigrant rights groups, which have frequently clashed with Hodgson, applauded the decision, calling it long overdue.
According to Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU Massachusetts, Hodgson "carried out the Trump administration's anti-immigrant agenda with zeal."
And, according to Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights
, the jail is "notorious for its inhumane and unconstitutional treatment of civil immigration detainees."
Associated Press writer
Philip Marcelo contributed reporting from Boston, and Brumback reported from Atlanta.