Two Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities had become the subject of chilling reports of abuses, including a whistleblower complaint first reported by Law&Crime last year alleging mass hysterectomies at one of them. Federal investigations followed, and on Thursday, the Biden administration reportedly ordered the agency to terminate contracts with both of them.
According to the Washington Post, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas ordered ICE to shut down Bristol County Sheriff’s Office in Massachusetts and to cut ties with Irwin County Detention Center in rural Georgia “as soon as possible.”
The latter endeavor might be more complicated by the fact the Georgia institution is county owned but run by a private contractor, the newspaper reported.
Subsequently confirming the anonymously sourced report in a press release, ICE shared the communications between Mayorkas with the agency.
In a memo to ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson, Secretary Mayorkas wrote: “Allow me to state one foundational principle: we will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention,” according to the agency.
Referring to the closure of the Georgia facility, ICE said that Mayorkas instructed that the process account for legal obligations like preserving evidence for ongoing investigations, relocating personnel if necessary, and the transferring detained immigrants.
“We have an obligation to make lasting improvements to our civil immigration detention system,” Secretary Mayorkas wrote in the memo, according to ICE. “This marks an important first step to realizing that goal. DHS detention facilities and the treatment of individuals in those facilities will be held to our health and safety standards. Where we discover they fall short, we will continue to take action as we are doing today.”
The Irwin County Detention Center had been the subject of an alarming whistleblower complaint last September, brought by several legal advocacy groups representing a nurse named Dawn Wooten who alleged “jarring medical neglect” within the facility, including a refusal to test detainees for COVID-19 and unwanted hysterectomies and other procedures being performed on immigrant women.
In the wake of the reporting, Dr. Ada Rivera, then-medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps, told Law&Crime last autumn that the agency “vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures,” but scrutiny upon the institution endured—including on Capitol Hill.
Then-Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf conceded to Congress the next month that ICE referred more immigrants for hysterectomies than previously disclosed.
The ACLU’s senior advocacy and policy counsel Naureen Shah applauded what she called the “Biden administration’s willingness to decisively break from the immigrants’ rights abuses of prior administrations.”
“Irwin County Detention Center is notorious for its dehumanizing and nightmarish conditions, including pervasive medical neglect and horrific reports of forced sterilizations.,” she said in a statement.
Advocating for further action, Shah added: “Far more can and must be done to pull the plug on a system that has squandered millions of taxpayer dollars and inflicted trauma and profound harm on hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their loved ones.”
She argued that part of that reform requires terminating so-called 287(g) agreements nationwide, referring to the clause of the Immigration and Nationality Act allowing state and local police officers to collaborate with the federal government to enforce federal immigration laws.
“And as ICE detention sites close, the Biden administration must release the individuals detained there — rather than transfer them to detention sites elsewhere, which risks stranding these individuals far from their families and lawyers and exposes them to continued risks from COVID-19,” she added.
The ACLU characterized the problems at the facility run by the Bristol County Sheriff’s office in Massachusetts as “part of an anti-immigrant agenda that has included attacking detained immigrants and denying them adequate food and medical care.”
The Post reported that state and federal investigation began institution last year after staff there used pepper balls, a flash-bang grenade, and canines against immigrants held there, in a dispute involving COVID-19 testing.
More information about Bristol County came out of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Massachusetts last June, including an investigative report in which Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey documented the incidents in question.
(Screengrab via WFXL)
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