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NIJC submitted testimony today in support of the Dignity not Detention Act; legislation introduced in the Maryland legislature aimed at ending immigration detention in the state. The statement uplifts ways in which the legislation would safeguard Maryland residents from expanded immigration detention, prevent federal authorities from carrying out rights abuses in Maryland, and guide Maryland down a safer path that embraces community-based alternatives to detention.

Protect Maryland communities against ICE expansion. The legislation would prevent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and companies that benefit from ICE contracts, from exploiting towns in order to maximize profits at the expense of the human dignity of immigrants, communities of color, and other marginalized communities. Maryland’s legislative efforts to roll back immigration detention were fueled by ICE’s attempts to build a new private detention center in the state.

A company with a dark history of abuse, Immigration Centers of America (ICA), has been in pursuit of the contract for the proposed Maryland facility. Since ICA began detaining people for ICE in 2010, the company’s facility in Farmville, Virginia, has been the target of several lawsuits and ongoing investigations, and became the site of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreak in ICE custody. Internal documents have shown a long history of abuse foreshadowing the COVID-19 outbreak, detailing how people in ICA-Farmville long faced indiscriminate use of pepper spray, received food with worms, and suffered from threats and retaliation.

End Maryland counties’ complicity with ICE abuses. The legislation would end existing agreements between local counties and ICE which are part of the sprawling patchwork of more than 200 prisons, jails, and prison-like complexes nationwide that are rife with systemic racism and abuse. In Maryland, ICE detains immigrants in Howard County, Worcester County, and Frederick County, all of which have a record of abuse and impunity. Frederick County’s Sheriff’s Office has an inter-governmental agreement with ICE to receive money for each person detained in its county jail in addition to a 287(g) program, creating perverse financial incentives for local police officers to take immigrants into ICE custody in order to fill up their jails, and increasing the likelihood of racial profiling in local arrest practices.

Community-based alternatives to detention are cheaper, effective, and humane. A spectrum of alternatives to detention has long existed as a better option to the mass incarceration of immigrants. Many communities have already developed smart models for a better and more humane way to support immigrants during case processing. The billions of tax dollars that are currently funding the immigrant detention system can be better invested in communities willing and able to provide an alternative approach.

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Jesse Franzblau is a senior policy analyst at NIJC.