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NIJC, DWN Condemn Broken Commitments to End Abusive For-Profit Incarceration

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and Detention Watch Network (DWN) condemn the Biden administration’s move this week to expand its use of private prisons for immigrant detention and demand that the president reverse course quickly to abide by his campaign promises to end the use of for-profit immigrant detention centers.

Local news outlets reported that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has entered into an agreement to detain as many as 1,875 immigrants at the GEO Group-operated Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania. The new ICE contract replaces the prison’s contract with the Bureau of Prisons, which ended in March 2021 as a result of President Biden’s Executive Order to phase out the use of private prisons in other areas of the U.S. justice system. The executive order did not include immigration detention centers.

Other recent news reports suggest that private prison giant CoreCivic also may be looking to ICE to take over expiring U.S. Marshals Services contracts at Leavenworth Detention Center in Kansas, a prison with a long documented history of abuse, and West Tennessee Detention Facility.

As of January 2020, 81 percent of people detained in ICE custody nationwide were held in facilities owned or managed by private prison corporations. Like all detention, reports of deaths and human rights abuses inside private detention centers have been tragically common for over a decade; last year a U.S. House oversight committee reported that private-prison contractors had “let known problems fester into a full-blown crisis” in the immigrant detention system.

Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, said: 

“President Biden entered office promising to address human rights abuses and racial injustice in the immigration system. Since then, 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. Unfortunately, it seems like President Biden is embracing that cruelty more every day.”   

Setareh Ghandehari, advocacy director of Detention Watch Network, said:

“We are deeply disappointed in Biden’s continued actions to inflate the immigration detention system despite the administration’s ongoing promises to end the use of for-profit detention and roll back ICE’s fundamentally flawed system. The administration is setting a dangerous precedent that fits within a broader emerging pattern of ICE detention expansion. This latest move of converting a newly closed BOP facility for ICE detention flies in the face of the administration’s commitment to fight for racial equity and disavows the very foundational principles of the executive order. The perverse financial incentives that drive incarceration are ever present and thriving in ICE detention — when will Biden act on his promise to bring justice and fairness to the immigration system?”

Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level. Visit Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.

The National Immigrant Justice Center is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation, and public education. Visit and follow @NIJC on Twitter.