On Tuesday, February 24, the Maryland House of Delegate’s Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a piece of proposed legislation, the Dignity Not Detention Act, that would ban immigration detention in the state. NIJC’s senior policy analyst, Jesse Franzblau, has been supporting efforts opposing immigration detention in the DMV metro area, and testified before Maryland’s state Judiciary Committee. Read his testimony below.
My name is Jesse Franzblau; I am a Senior Policy Analyst at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). On behalf of my colleagues, and the thousands of individuals NIJC serves every year, I am here to express our strong support for HB 677, the Dignity Not Detention Act.
For over three decades, NIJC has dedicated itself to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. NIJC provides direct legal services to and advocates for these populations through policy reform, impact litigation, and public education. NIJC provides legal services to more than 10,000 low-income individuals each year. NIJC also monitors abuses in the federal immigration detention system, while serving as a primary pro bono legal service provider for detained immigrants. NIJC submits this written statement to inform you that the Dignity Not Detention Act is a timely and vitally important measure to protect Maryland residents.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a Request for Information (RFI) in April 2019 to identify one or more possible immigration detention facility sites within a desired 50-mile radius of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Baltimore Field Office. The RFI called for a facility of approximately 600-800 adult males and females. In response, the private company Immigration Centers of America (ICA) submitted a conceptual site plan and 14-page packet of information for an 800-bed facility. The company’s packet was redacted, but a three-page cover letter offered a glowing account of the private immigrant detention facility that ICA runs with ICE with 700 beds in Farmville, Virginia, and expressed interest in creating a similar operation in Maryland. Importantly, no local governments in Maryland responded to the RFI expressing interest in hosting the new ICE facility in their town or county.
The Virginia-based company, ICA, hired the Annapolis-based consultancy firm Cornerstone Government Affairs to lobby officials in Queen Anne’s County on the new facility. Cornerstone lobbyists then went to the town of Sudlersville in an effort to convince local officials of their proposal. Records recently obtained through public records requests show that the lobbyists with Cornerstone then worked closely with Sudlersville officials in an effort to pass an ordinance to allow for the building of the new facility. That ordinance is currently under debate.
ICA has a history of hiring lobbyists and using powerful connections to promote its agenda. ICA hired consultants with Spotts Fain Consulting in 2011 to lobby ICE to assure its Virginia detention center reached its maximum inmate capacity. The company also got help from the former Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, who used his influence to lobby ICE to get the Farmville facility off the ground. Ken Cuccinelli is currently acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, carrying out the Trump administration’s most hardline anti-immigrant policies.
This statement is intended to remind you and your colleagues that the Dignity Not Detention Act can accomplish something historically significant: it can unequivocally declare that Maryland is fundamentally opposed to the system of privatized mass incarceration that brazenly maximizes profits at the expense of basic civil and human rights.
Read the full testimony here.