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5 Ways to Resist The Flawed U.S. Immigration Detention System

Eight months into the Biden presidency, what has and hasn’t changed in the U.S. immigration detention system?

By Hannah Hafter on September 16, 2021

While the Biden administration has taken some modest steps to address the dysfunction of the nation’s immigration detention system, there are still many miles ahead before we can call this system just and equitable. Here are five critical pieces of information you need to know about the detention system and five ways you can get involved to resist its harmful impacts on immigrants.

5 Things You Need to Know

1. The numbers of immigrants in detention are up. As of mid-September 2021, there are 23,014 immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, which is 10,000 more than the 13,000 people in detention in February 2021.

2. The vast majority of immigrants detained today are from the border. Out of the people currently detained by ICE, only 20 percent were arrested by ICE. The other 80 percent were arrested by Customs and Border Protection (Border Patrol). Even though the border is still closed to most asylum-seekers under a policy called “Title 42,” the small number of humanitarian exceptions are leading to more asylum-seekers in detention, not pursuing their cases freely.

3. More than 75 percent of immigrants in ICE detention today have no criminal record. The quarter that do include those with immigration-specific “illegal entry” and “illegal re-entry” convictions. (Here at UUSC we believe that a criminal record should not be automatically a cause for detention or deportation and recognize that the criminal legal system unfairly targets Black and Brown communities. However, this data shows that the “criminal” argument often used to support ICE detention is flawed.)

4. Reports of COVID-19 outbreaks in immigration detention are growing. ICE is transferring detainees between detention facilities at higher rates , which contributes to the spread. La Resistencia, a solidarity organization in Washington state working with immigrants in Northwest Detention Center, reports 269 COVID cases there since June, and detainees have been peacefully protesting for universal access to COVID-19 testing, an appropriate quarantine process, and remote court. UUSC partner Shut Down Etowah in Alabama also just put out a press release condemning the lack of testing and medical care for a COVID-19 outbreak there. In Minnesota, Conversations with Friends (CWF), another UUSC partner has recently been visiting with and supporting immigrants seeking asylum who were flown by ICE to Minnesota from Colorado, many of whom were first detained in Texas, then New Mexico, and Colorado.

5. Local campaigns to end ICE detention contracts and shut down detention centers have been winning! Widespread documentation of abuses led to ICE ending contracts with Bristol County, Massachusetts and Irwin County, Georgia, which became infamous for the forced sterilization of women held there. County officials in Hudson County, New Jersey revoked their ICE contract for as many as 700 beds at the Hudson County Correctional Center, just a month after Essex County, New Jersey did the same. The one family detention center outside of Texas, Berks “Family Residential Center” in Pennsylvania, stopped detaining families this summer after many years of organizing in the local community. However, in an alarming trend, ICE is moving to convert the Berks facility into a women’s detention facility. Also, an executive order from President Biden is stopping the use of private prisons for federal inmates, but not for immigration detention. This is likely to lead to the conversion of many private prisons to immigration detention facilities for the owners to keep profits up. Additionally, our advocacy continues to try to ensure that the people detained in these facilities are released instead of simply transferred elsewhere when the shut-down occurs.

“The only way to ensure the end of this unjust and immoral cycle is with the permanent closure of the Berks immigrant prison. President Biden and his administration need to end this ICE contract now; residents of Berks County deserve actual human services they can access,” said the Shut Down Berks Coalition.

5 Opportunities for Action

Join us for the Communities Not Cages Day of Action on Thursday, September 23

As part of the Detention Watch Network’s “Communities Not Cages” campaign, UUSC invites you to participate in person or virtually in the call to end immigration detention!

1. Attend an In-Person Action on September 23 and 25 for Communities Not Cages—Actions are currently planned in Massachusetts, California, Arizona, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and New Jersey, with more being added to the map daily.

2. Support UUSC’s e-Action—Ask President Biden to shut down 10 ICE detention centers in his first year in office.

3. Sign the Berks Petition—Tell DHS Secretary Mayorkas to not convert the Berks Detention Center in Pennsylvania to a women’s ICE detention center.

4. Make Phone Calls With Shut Down Etowah—Call the Etowah County Sheriff (256-549-5408), the County Commissioners (256-549-5300), and the Regional ICE office (504-599-7800). Say you support the demands of Etowah detainees: testing on demand; quality medical care; and a mass release to allow everyone to self-isolate and recover. Learn the latest on their Facebook Page.

5. Phone Calls with La Resistencia—Call on Washington Members of Congress to address medical neglect and the spread of COVID-19 at Northwest Detention Center. Learn more on their Facebook Page.

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About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!

Image Credit: Shut Down Etowah

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