Immigrant rights activists on Thursday slammed President Barack Obama’s administration for signing contracts with private companies that guarantee a minimum number of daily detainees at certain detention centers where undocumented foreign nationals are held.
Two of these detention centers are in South Florida, one in Miami-Dade and the other in Broward, according to the report, Banking on Detention, released by the groups Detention Watch Network and Center for Constitutional Rights.
The report says the guaranteed minimum-practice encourages immigration authorities to arrest more foreign nationals who have no legal status and enriches the for-profit firms that run immigrant detention centers or provide services for them.
The criticism came during a telephone news conference in which the activists announced the release of a report in which authors highlight the existence of agreements between immigration authorities and private companies that operate services at detention centers.
“The detention of immigrants has become big business and a source of profit, yet comes with a significant moral and financial cost for everyone involved,” said Silky Shah, co-director of Detention Watch Network
Shah said the policy stemmed from a 2009 congressional mandate that funds be provided every year for a minimum of 34,000 daily beds in immigrant detention centers nationwide.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which runs immigrant detention centers, said agreements with private companies do not impact its operations or decisions.
“ICE’s capacity of 34,000 daily detention beds is mandated by Congress,” said Jennifer Elzea, an ICE spokesperson. “In order to meet that mandate and use our limited resources in the most efficient way, we have developed agreements with certain facilities to make available certain numbers of beds to ICE at all times. The availability of those beds in no way impacts ICE’s enforcement priorities or actions.”
Meanwhile, a federal official familiar with immigration matters said that ICE field office directors have discretion to place detainees in supervised release programs.
“Congress mandates that certain individuals [murderers, rapists, etc.] be held in detention,” the official said. “For other individuals the field office director typically has the discretion as to whether a person can be detained or placed on an alternatives to detention program depending on the totality of the circumstances.”
Release of Banking on Detention marks a new effort by immigrant rights activists to force the administration to change tactics and modify or eliminate detention as a policy to manage immigrants facing deportation, seeking asylum or simply being held after being caught without papers.
“The practice of immigration detention, once rarely used, has become a rigid part of the United States’ immigration and budget policy,” the report says. “Before any real immigration reform can be realized, the national and local lockup quotas have to be addressed.”
As a first step, the report says, the government should take steps to first end its practice of guaranteed minimum detainee populations at detention centers and then close the detention centers themselves. Some activists have proposed that undocumented immigrant detainees be outfitted with ankle bracelets as a way to track their movements and ensure their appearance in immigration court.
The report says that of ICE’s 24 field offices across the nation, 12 have guaranteed minimums written into contracts with private companies that run detention centers or provide services for them.
The Miami field office is among the 12 and two of the major detention centers in South Florida include Krome in Miami-Dade and Broward Transitional Center (BTC) in Pompano Beach. Both have a guaranteed minimum number of detainees in each facility, according to the report. Those are 500 at BTC and 450 at Krome, according to the report.
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