On May 20, 2021, Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, directed ICE to immediately discontinue the use of an immigration detention facility in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts and prepare to discontinue the use of another detention facility in Ocilla, Georgia. Both facilities have been at the center of controversy in recent months. At the Massachusetts facility, the Massachusetts Attorney General found the sheriff’s office used excessive force, including flash-bang grenades, pepper-ball launchers, and canines, against detainees when a clash broke out over COVID-19 testing. And at the Ocilla, Georgia facility, numerous detainees came forward to report that a gynecologist who worked at facility performed unnecessary and unwanted procedures on them, including hysterectomies.
In his directive to close these facilities, Secretary Mayorkas remarked, “Allow me to state one foundational principle: we will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention.”
The closure of these facilities highlights the problematic nature our immigration detention system and begs the question of whether immigration detention is even necessary. While immigration detention is said to be “civil” rather than “criminal,” in practice immigration detainees are confined in jail-like settings.
A common argument in support of immigration detention facilities is that it ensures immigrants attend their court hearings. However, recent reports indicate that the “problem” of immigrants failing to appear for court hearings is relatively small, and often can be attributed to lack of notice or challenges in getting to court. A recent report published by the American Immigration Council analyzed a decade of data provided by the federal government and found:
The closure of two detention facilities is a positive development, and hopefully will spur on the conversations regarding alternatives to detention.
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