Two days after the Biden administration issued an executive order to end the Department of Justice's reliance on private prisons, Representative Jason Crow and other members of Congress called on the president to also commit to ending the use of private prisons for immigrant detention.
"The Federal Government has a responsibility to ensure the safe and humane treatment of those in its care, and that must be as true for individuals detained in private prisons in DOJ custody as it is for individuals detained in private prisons in the Department of Homeland Security custody. We stand ready to work with the Biden Administration to end the use of private immigration detention facilities by ICE," 75 members of Congress stated in a January 28 letter organized by representatives Crow, Pramila Jayapal and Raul Ruiz to David Pekoske, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Immigrant-rights advocates have long called for the federal government to stop contracting with private prison companies, such as GEO Group and CoreCivic, for immigrant detention.
"There’s no doing this halfway. If we’re going to change the regime and change the way we look at immigration, we’re going to have to do that top-down. It will take a significant amount of political courage," says Hans Meyer, a local immigration attorney who wants to see federal immigration authorities completely cut ties with private prison companies.
The vast majority of people held in custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection have been kept in privately run facilities, like the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, an arrangement that federal officials justify because of cost savings. In fact, a newly released report from the Office of Immigration Detention Ombudsman, whose head was appointed by President Donald Trump, notes that facilities owned and operated by ICE are the most expensive.
However, the members of Congress who signed the letter expressed concern that this "incentive to lower costs to maximize profits" has had a negative effect on the overall care and well-being of immigrant detainees. "Entrenching profit incentives into our nation’s detention system violates our nation’s basic guiding principles of justice and fairness," they said.
When Westword asked GEO Group about Biden's January 26 executive order calling for the Department of Justice to phase out its use of private prisons, Pablo Paez, a vice president for the company, said that the order is a "solution in search of a problem" and that GEO Group has run "newer and more modern" facilities for the Bureau of Prisons for more than three decades. Paez did not respond when asked whether GEO Group was concerned about a possible shift away from private prisons for immigrant detention; ICE declined to comment.
In his first years in office, Crow has taken a keen interest in the Aurora facility; staffers have been monitoring the facility and publishing reports about it on a weekly basis. Over the past few years, the center has been plagued by cases of medical neglect, infectious-disease outbreaks, and allegations of forced labor.
In the January 28 letter, Crow and other members of Congress, including Colorado representatives Joe Neguse, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter, cited concerns about such violations of federal standards. "All detention facilities have a basic responsibility to protect the well-being of individuals in their custody," they noted, "and on far too many occasions, privately run facilities have failed to meet that standard."
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