Immigration Detention is as Horrible as Ever

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) recetnly announced that it will phase out the use of private prisons within the federal prison system. This is a great move, but it’s bittersweet. While DOJ is in charge of federal prisons generally, it is not in charge of immigration detention. Instead, immigration detention falls under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And DHS shows no intention of phasing out its use of private prisons. In fact, DHS just quietly awarded a $1 billion no-bid contract to an existing private prison company. The contract pays a fee that is not tied to the number of detained persons, an arrangment that is unusual in the private prison industry. DHS justifies its use of private prisons as a way to shift the risks/costs of unpredictable needs onto private industry. Assuming that this argument makes sense – an assumption that seems very dubious – DHS is doing nothing to prevent the deplorable conditions of immigraiton detention. Prisoners are kept in squalid conditions, denied access to basic needs, and outinely spend months and months waiting to a judge. DHS recently fought vigorously to prevent the release of photographs showing the inhumane conditions in which immigrants are housed. The photos speak for themselves. DHS also continues to fight for their ability to detain minor children in direct violation of a prior settlement agreement and court order. It seems there is a world of difference between the culture at DOJ and DHS. And tragically, the persons who are suffering the most are people who came to the US looking for refuge. They are asylum seekers who fled their nearly lawless home countries in central america because of very real threats to their lives. The US has treated these people – who have broken no laws in the US – worse than we treat actual criminals. DHS has no moral justification for its use of such prisons. DOJ’s announcement only highlights how unacceptable DHS practices are.

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