Local records requests filed by NIJC, often in partnership with local immigrant rights groups, have exposed how local governments have used the detention of immigrants as a revenue stream. Communications between private companies and federal, state and local officials have helped shed light on the “middleman contracting” scheme involving local authorities, which has been found to be improper under federal procurement law, and stifles accountability for violations that occur within the facility walls. These transparency efforts are important for community, legal, and legislative efforts to prevent the expansion of new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers.
Interested in filing your own local records requests to learn about how your local or state government interacts with ICE? Download NIJC and Detention Watch Network's State & Local Records Request Resources & Template (PDF).
Immigration Centers of America (ICA) expansion efforts
Email correspondence obtained through local records requests details the inner workings of ICA’s first and only existing immigration detention center. Read NIJC's policy brief.
Documents reveal how ICA hired a lobbying firm, Cornerstone Government Affairs, to lobby Maryland officials in an effort to build a new ICE detention center in Queen Anne’s County. Records include correspondence between lobbyists and local officials as the town of Sudlersville drew up plans for an ordinance to allow the new detention center to be built. Read the documents.
Records relating to the proposal in Dwight, Illinois, by ICA to build a new ICE detention center within town limits. The documents include the ordinance and zoning proposals negotiated by the Dwight Village Board. Read the documents.
GEO Group expansion efforts
Lake County, MI
Records on the environmental assessment conducted by consultants for the company GEO Group in the lead up to the construction of the new Bureau of Prisons (BOP) jail re-opened in Baldwin, Michigan. Read the documents.
Local governments' responses to the COVID-19 outbreak
As COVID-19 began to spread through detention centers in March 2020, NIJC filed a series of local open records request in an effort to shed light on how local jails and elected officials detaining people for ICE were responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. Inside detention, NIJC clients expressed fear over the spread of the virus in conditions where social distancing was impossible. Publicly, ICE claimed they were taking precautions to mitigate the spread. Yet, rather than quickly and safely release people from detention, ICE moved people from one facility to the next, placed people in quarantine and solitary confinement, and used violent force in response to hunger strikes and protests. ICE even recklessly transferred people across state lines to facilities so ICE agents could be deployed to police racial justice protests taking place in Washington, DC.
In response to NIJC requests, local officials released records with outdated internal guidance, showing a lack of preparedness as COVID-19 worsened. The up-to-date memos that local officials did release claimed that the jails were following Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to control the spread of the virus. However, testimonies from individuals detained in the same facilities reported differently at the time, describing how they were denied basic hygienic products like hand sanitizers. In other cases, local officials said they had no records responsive to our requests for information, illustrating a concerning dearth of communication between ICE and the officials responsible for people detained on behalf of ICE.
The records received in response to the requests include:
ICA-Farmville, Virginia: In April 2020, the town of Farmville claimed they had “no records” relating to policy guidance or any correspondence with ICE or the company running the facility (Immigration Centers of America, ICA) relating to the management of COVID-19 in the detention center. The ICA-Farmville detention center operates under an Inter-Governmental Service Agreement (IGSA) – a form of contracting ICE has used for years to hand out billions to private prison companies while bypassing the public bidding process. Despite having a contract directly with ICE, Farmville officials proceed willfully blind when it comes to the treatment of the people detained in its own prison. The lack of communication with the town illustrates how the privatized immigration detention contracting arrangements shield companies from transparency and accountability, at the expense of people trapped inside.
In response to another request for information relating to ICE’s transfer of 72 individuals to ICA-Farmville in June 2020, which led to the worst outbreak of any facility in the country, the town of Farmville released communication from ICA-Farmville Director Jeffrey Crawford, sent to the mayor and town manager in response to concerns over the facility and the “COVID-19 situation.” In the correspondence, Crawford made no mention of ongoing lawsuits or complaints about abuse and the facility’s inadequate response to the pandemic. Crawford also claimed that ICA-Farmville had passed its last seven ICE audits with a 100 percent compliance rating, but failed to mention the consistent reporting of abuse in ICE discrepancy reports and inspections over the years.
McHenry, Illinois: The McHenry Sheriff’s office released 190 pages of internal communication in response to our request for guidance on how to handle COVID-19 in the McHenry County Jail, which holds people (an average of 243 men and 37 women a year) for ICE. The records included operational guidance sent from the Sheriff to staff in March 2020. In one memo, the McHenry Chief of Corrections told staff they had to come to work, whether or not there was COVID-19 in the facility, making clear that staff would not receive overtime, and reprimanded people for spreading rumors to the contrary.
While the internal records show that the McHenry County jail took care to check the temperature of staff, and ordered the use of protective gear, people detained struggled to get basic hygienic supplies. NIJC clients detained in the McHenry jail in March 2020 said they and others in detention had insufficient access to hand sanitizer or cleaning supplies and could only access soap by paying for it at the jail commissary, an option many people cannot afford.
Kankakee, Illinois: The Kankakee County Sheriff responded to a FOIA request by releasing a short memo with bullet points on the measures taken by the Sheriff’s office in response to COVID-19. The Sheriff’s office claimed they were providing people in detention with soap and disinfectant, and conducting “daily disinfection routine three times a day, which includes door handles, toilets, showers and tables.”
NIJC clients, however, said the facility at the time had not “done much of anything” in response to COVID-19. As far as one client observed, there were no additional medical personnel at the facility, and the staff had not asked him about symptoms at all. They additionally noted that he and other immigrants in detention did not have access to any extra cleaning supplies to keep their living areas sanitized.
NIJC will continued to add new records obtained in response to information requests as they are released.