Joe Biden has done a lot on immigration in a short amount of time — much of it good.
In January, Biden kicked off his presidency with splashy executive orders ending the Muslim ban, protecting young undocumented people from deportation, and making sure immigrants are counted in the Census.
In February, he introduced a massive immigration reform bill that would, among other things, provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people. And on the first day of March, his administration announced plans to reunite families separated at the border under former president Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.
Those are all welcome developments. But Biden isn’t living up to all his promises, especially when it comes to immigration detention.
While campaigning, Biden stressed the importance of “ending the prolonged detention of migrant children.” Instead, he suggested we invest in alternatives to detention, such as nonprofit case management programs.
“These programs enable migrants to live in dignity and safety while awaiting their court hearings,” he said. He called these approaches “highly effective” and “far less expensive and punitive” than locking people up.
Instead of investing in the alternatives to detention proposed by Biden himself, the administration just reopened Carrizo Springs, a Trump-era facility for detained immigrant children. There are plans to open another one soon.
“This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay — no matter the administration or party,” said Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), referring to the Carrizo Springs news.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) added that multiple administrations have “made the callous choice to lock up thousands of children seeking refuge” in the United States. “As long as we see people seeking a better life as ‘aliens’ instead of fellow human beings,” she warned, “our immigration system will continue to fail us.”
Biden also said he’d end federal use of private immigrant detention centers. He hasn’t done that either.
He did issue an executive order purporting to terminate contracts between the federal government and private prison contractors — but it left out private ICE detention centers. ICE oversees 221 facilities across the country, two-thirds of which are operated by private prison corporations like GEO Group and CoreCivic.
The ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the Detention Watch Network report that over 80 percent of migrant detainees are held in privately run ICE facilities. Those same facilities are infamous for sexual assaults, excessive use of force, forced hysterectomies, and deaths.
After an abundance of evidence from Freedom for Migrants and other immigrant rights watchdogs, and a massive USA Today investigation detailing the horrific nature of ICE detention centers, Biden has no excuse for exempting ICE from his ban on federal use of private prisons.
Even the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, reported that conditions at private detention facilities operated by GEO Group were unacceptable. Unusable restrooms, moldy food, and nooses in detainee cells were just some of the abusive practices the report listed. Following the report, the House Oversight Committee began an investigation into GEO group, CoreCivic, and other for-profit prison companies.
Biden must immediately stop the detention of unaccompanied migrant children, and issue another executive order expanding the scope of his original ban on private prisons to include private detention centers under the jurisdiction of DHS and ICE.
We can’t afford to waste time. The documented abuses and meteoric rise in deaths in ICE custody, including under Biden’s watch, make that painfully clear.