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Formerly Detained Immigrants to Biden: End Immigrant Detention

In letter to White House, formerly detained immigrants urge Biden-Harris administration to fulfill promise to end private detention

ATLANTA – A group of nearly 30 immigrants formerly detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today sent a letter to the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, demanding the Biden-Harris administration address the ongoing harm of immigrant detention and close all ICE detention centers.

The letter organizers were part of the group that disrupted a rally held by President Biden in Duluth, Ga., two weeks ago calling for the closure of private detention facilities. The President acknowledged the protesters and expressed his agreement with the protesters’ demand to end immigration detention.

The group of immigrants, who were previously detained in different ICE prisons across the Southeast, say the dehumanizing and traumatizing detention system is in direct contradiction to the humane immigration system that President Biden and Vice-President Harris campaigned on. The letter was endorsed by more than 100 organizations based in Georgia and around the country. 

“When you responded by saying you agreed with us, you heard the approval from the crowd,” wrote Nilson Barahona, one of the authors of the letter who was previously detained. “Here in Georgia,” continued Barahona, “united as directly impacted individuals, united as a family, united as a community, united as a people, we call for action.”

“Being in solitary confinement under ICE custody was terrible and humiliating,” said Li An “Estrella” Sánchez, another author of the letter and director and founder of Community Estrella. “I believed in your promises during the election, and this is why I risked it all to knock on doors,” continued Sánchez. 

The immigration detention system costs taxpayers billions of dollars to hold immigrants in prisons that have created a windfall for private prison corporations that fulfill lucrative minimum bed contracts.

Activists and communities have for years advocated for the end of immigrant detention, and momentum has grown in recent years. ICE detention came under the national spotlight last year when more than 40 women detained at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga., came forward with their experience of nonconsensual, unnecessary, and invasive gynecological procedures following a whistleblower complaint filed by advocates in September 2020.

Over the last 14 months, ICE’s reckless handling of COVID-19 has continued to drive deadly outbreaks at detention facilities across the country. Due to court orders and redirected enforcement priorities, the ICE detention population briefly dipped to a record low last month, yet in the past few weeks troubling reports indicate the administration is increasing its incarceration of immigrants as detention populations in Georgia and Louisiana dramatically increase. Advocates, communities, public health experts, and immigrant rights organizations say the Biden-Harris administration now has a unique opportunity to shut down the ICE detention system once and for all. 

View the letter here.