ACLU Pushes for Shutdown of Immigrant Detention Centers, Citing COVID

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is urging the Biden administration to close dozens of immigration detention facilities across the country, citing the historically low number of immigrants in detention and the high cost of paying for empty beds, reports NPR. In a letter sent Wednesday to the Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the ACLU calls for the closure of 39 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities. The agency oversees 200 facilities and ICE pays more than $1 million a day for empty detention beds. The ACLU argues that “enormous taxpayer expense” is a waste, and that the money could be better spent on alternatives to detention or other priorities.

To lower the risk of COVID-19, ICE has released hundreds of people and is arresting and detaining fewer unauthorized immigrants under orders from President Biden, resulting in the number of immigrants in detention falling to roughly 15,000 — the lowest number in decades — after peaking at more than 55,000 in 2019. Immigrant advocates say this isn’t just about money, but also about the morality of putting immigrants behind bars for civil violations. Many ICE detainees have not been convicted of any crimes. ICE guarantees it will pay for a minimum number of beds — whether they are filled or not — under contracts with the private companies and localities that own and operate the detention centers and that it’s a mistake to draw conclusions about its contracting process during a pandemic that has forced the agency to release detainees from custody in order to comply with social distancing guidelines.

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