Washington, DC — Today, Detention Watch Network, FIRM Action, American Friends Service Committee, United We Dream and the We Are Home Campaign coordinated the “Communities Not Cages” National Day of Action with 20 actions taking place across the country hosted by local partners, including an interfaith ceremony outside of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Headquarters in Washington, DC (watch the livestream here). Advocates called on the administration to take immediate action to shut down immigration detention centers, release all people from detention, defund ICE and CBP, and stop deportations. Following Biden’s State of the Union address, advocates, directly impacted people, and members of Congress who supported today’s actions expressed their deep disappointment and frustration over Biden’s broken campaign promises while demanding urgent action be taken for the dignity and rights of immigrants and people seeking asylum.
Advocates note the Biden administration has been in office for over a year and has failed to deliver for immigrant communities. Rather than reducing detention as promised along the campaign trail that was reaffirmed by Biden as recently as April of 2021, the administration has instead embarked on a troubling pattern of detention expansion and has embraced Trump-era anti-immigrant policies, including the harmful “Remain in Mexico” program and Title 42 border closure and expulsions. Just last month, Biden asked Congress to fund as many as 400,000 people in ICE’s “alternatives to detention” pilot program that expands house confinement and curfew, a move that advocates denounce as an extension of detention through restrictive and abusive surveillance measures. According to reports, this pilot program will be operated by BI Incorporated, a subsidiary of the private prison company GEO Group, which contradicts the spirit of the Biden administration’s January 2021 executive order and his stated goal of phasing out the use of privately operated facilities and reducing reliance on immigration detention.
The demands for today’s actions were echoed in a letter sent today to Acting ICE Director, Tae D. Johnson, signed by 200 organizations detailing why ICE must use its discretion to immediately release all people in ICE custody amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Marcela Hernandez, Organizing Director for Detention Watch Network, said:
“The Biden administration bears full responsibility for the suffering inflicted on people subjected to detention and their loved ones that feel their absence and are fighting to bring them home. Detention is inhumane, morally and financially costly, and completely unnecessary. We remain steadfast in our demand to #FreeThemAll and end the use of immigration detention in its entirety.”
Cynthia Garcia, National Campaigns Manager for Community Protection of United We Dream, said:
“This past year, Black, brown and immigrant communities were met with deliberate inaction and empty promises from President Biden and his administration to protect our lives. Since taking office, President Biden has called for billions of dollars to further fund the deportation machine of ICE and CBP, which has resulted in over 2 million people deported and expelled since the start of his administration. All the while, his administration continues to rely on racist and devastatingly inhumane policies, including ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Title 42, to separate families and is choosing to put thousands more at risk by reopening detention facilities and dramatically expanding surveillance technology, including ankle shackles and geolocation tracking. Our communities will continue to be unapologetic about shining a light on these atrocities and refuse to let up the pressure on President Biden and his administration to divert billions from enforcement funding to humane programs that help our communities without hurting them.”
Mireya Reith, Executive Director of Arkansas United and co-chair of FIRM Action, said:
“President Biden must do everything in his authority to bring relief to millions of immigrants whose lives continue in limbo. He has the authority to close detention centers and stop deportations altogether. He made a promise to immigrant communities that he would work with us to create the protections our families need. So far, he has failed to do that. We’ll continue holding him accountable until everyone in our community is safe.”
Kristin Kumpf, Director of Human Migration and Mobility for the American Friends Service Committee, said:
“President Biden’s shameful immigration policies are hurting our communities. His failure to end Title 42 and the ‘Remain in Mexico’ program puts migrants and asylum seekers in danger and brings tremendous harm to communities in the U.S. We are calling for an immediate end to these programs, an end to detention and deportation, and cuts in funding to ICE and CBP.”
Bridgette Gomez, We Are Home Campaign Director, said:
“More than a year after President Biden took office, we’re still seeing mass injustices and cruelty across our immigration system and particularly in detention and enforcement. The Biden administration has the authority to take immediate steps to reduce harm and address racial disparities and deliver on its campaign promises to immigrant communities. President Biden can and must immediately halt all new detention contracts, close down detention facilities, extend the private prison ban, and release people from detention. Without action, we’ll continue to see day in and day out the suffering and harm caused by family separation and continued abuses by notorious detention centers.”
Members of Congress issued the following statements, encouraging the Biden administration to act now:
Rep. Bonnie Coleman, representing New Jersey’s 12th district, said:
“America claims to be ‘the land of the free’ and a nation of opportunity, yet our immigration system seems designed to deny people the American Dream. So long as our government continues to imprison those who seek better lives for themselves and their families, the great promise of our nation is an empty one. I’m proud to join Detention Watch Network in calling on the Biden Administration to put an end to the cruelty that occurs along our southern border and in detention facilities across the country. Immigrants have the right to be treated with basic human decency.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, representing Washington state’s 7th district, said:
“As someone who came to this country alone at 16, was proud to create what is now the largest immigrant rights organization in Washington state, and now am one of only two dozen immigrants serving in Congress, I know firsthand just how broken our immigration system is. Too many immigrants face detention when we have sensible alternatives. That’s exactly why I introduced the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act. We must reform the detention system and end the profit motives that drive it. It’s time to create a fair, humane immigration system that prioritizes dignity and human rights – one that ends the use of private detention facilities, repeals mandatory detention, cuts the budget of ICE and CBP and invests in real community-based alternatives, and restoring due process.”
Rep. Mark Takano, representing California’s 41st district, said:
“ICE detention centers have proven to be unsafe, inhumane facilities that operate in ways that reject our nation’s strong support for immigrants and immigrant communities. In the past, I’ve toured a facility in Adelanto, where I was horrified at what I witnessed and called for immediate changes, as well as its full closure. We must hold ICE and the private contractors who are responsible for the poor conditions in these facilities fully accountable. Now more than ever, as COVID-19 continues to plague our country, and the health and safety of detainees is in question, I am calling on the Biden-Harris Administration to continue closing detention centers and stop the recent expansion of immigrant detention. I will never stop advocating and fighting for immigrants, and that includes standing up against their mistreatment by ICE.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar, representing Minnesota’s 5th district, said:
“I stand proudly with the Detention Watch Network’s demands. The inhumane treatment of detainees in ICE detention centers and the continued use of Title 42 to expel migrants is unacceptable. It is past time that we reorient our immigration policy to be rooted in humanity and compassion, and it is an honor to work with DWN to make this a reality.”