Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., led a group of progressive Democrats on Monday in demanding that President Biden’s administration end contracts between federal immigration enforcement agencies and state and local detention facilites.
A letter spearheaded by Omar on Monday urged Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice to “rein in a system of detention built on a disproven myth that immigrants fail to appear in court.”
Omar was joined by fellow “Squad” members Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.. alongside other progressive Democrats. Twenty-three House Democrats in all signed the letter.
In a press release issued Monday, Omar said the government “must truly sever the financial incentives” that are “causing the expansion” of an “abuse-ridden system of mass incarceration.”
“Phasing out DHS contracts with localities for immigration detention is a much-needed step toward restoring basic humanity to our immigration system,” she said. “We must truly sever the financial incentives causing the expansion of an unnecessary and abuse-ridden system of mass incarceration. Now is our chance to stop this abusive system from causing more unnecessary harm.”
The letter called on the Biden administration to “phase out” contracts between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshall Service (USMS) and local and state jails that hold migrants caught illegally crossing the border through an “additional” executive order accompanying his one from Jan. 26, 2021.
“We urge the Biden administration to release an additional Executive Order announcing a plan to phase out contracts between ICE and state, county, and local jails and prisons,” the letter read.
The lawmakers cited a Brookings Institute report that said that “49% of people in ICE detention” were being held in county-owned facilities and that “14%” were detained in “facilities owned by cities and municipalities.”
They went on to write that “all cases” of a federal contract between local jails and ICE to hold migrants were “financially incentivized.”
“In many instances, ICE will offer localities a per diem rate to detain immigrants that is substantially higher than the per diem rate offered by state Departments of Corrections to detain people held in federal custody,” wrote the lawmakers.
The group claimed that this “financial incentive has fueled” the increase of “immigrant detention” in the United States and that the “incentives” to make money have “come at a particular cost to Black and Brown immigrants” that they claimed are “doubly vulnerable to aggressive surveillance and incarceration” in both the criminal justice and immigration contexts.
The letter then alleged that the facilities contracted with ICE “mirror the systemic abuses” in “privately operated” facilities holding migrants, such as “medical neglect” and “sexual assault.”
“Conditions in municipal, county, and state jails and prisons contracting with ICE to detain immigrants mirror the systemic abuses in privately operated immigration detention facilities, including medical neglect, long term use of solitary confinement, sexual assault, and lack of access to legal counsel,” the letter read.
The lawmakers pointed to the Morrow County Jail in Ohio that reportedly had “100% of all immigrants tested positive for COVID-19 after county officials used expired thermometers to conduct temperature checks and failed to implement even basic medical quarantining procedures.”
Additionally, the group pointed to a case at the Bristol County jail in Massachusetts, “in which the Sheriff’s office unleashed dogs and pepper spray against detained immigrants, resulting in at least two hospitalizations.”
The group ended the letter by urging the Biden administration to “end contracts between the federal government and localities for the purposes of immigration detention” so that the government can “truly sever the financial incentives” surrounding migrant detention.
“At a historic moment where immigration detention levels are at their lowest in a generation, now is the time to act to rein in a system of detention built on a disproven myth that immigrants fail to appear in court,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter comes as the United States sees a historic surge of migrants attempting to enter the country at the southern border.
The New York Times reported that many migrants turned away at the border claimed that President Joe Biden had “promised” them entry into the country.