Go to Press Releases library
Press Releases

“Expose & Close” campaign calls for the closure of 10 of the worst U.S. immigration detention facilities

Washington, D.C., November 15, 2012—The Women's Refugee Commission welcomes the Detention Watch Network’s “Expose & Close” campaign calling for the closure of 10 of the worst immigration detention facilities nationwide. The campaign highlights the inhumane conditions in immigration detention centers ranging from large, privately operated facilities dedicated exclusively to detaining immigrants to some of the worst county jails in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) maintains bed space for immigration detainees. 

It has been more than three years since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued its report identifying the gaps and failures of immigration detention and mapping out ways to reform the system. Since then, DHS and ICE have implemented some meaningful steps toward reform, including proposing and implementing new detention standards that are more in line with the agency's civil mandate to detain, opening a new, more civil detention center, and facilitating better access to and monitoring of its facilities. However, despite this progress, ICE continues to detain more than 33,000 immigrants per day, often in remote private prisons and county jails that do not meet the agency's own, limited detention standards. 

The 10 facilities included in the “Expose & Close” campaign are all notorious for their inadequate medical and mental health care, insufficient food, lack of any meaningful recreation (including, in some facilities, no access to the outdoors), lack of meaningful visitation, isolation from cities and access to legal service providers and generally poor conditions. The Women's Refugee Commission has toured and monitored three of the facilities included in the campaign. Our visit to the Etowah County Detention Center and subsequent report, Politicized Neglect , was crucial in exposing the conditions there. Etowah County Detention Center is more than two hours from Atlanta, has “outdoor” recreation that consists of an enclosed, concrete gym area, and facilitates visitation through a video screen. Detainees at Etowah are men who have primarily already been ordered deported but many of whom cannot be removed from the United States because they are stateless or because the U.S. lacks diplomatic ties to their home countries. These individuals languish in Etowah for months and years, without access to a lawyer, and at great expense to U.S. taxpayers. Read more here.

“We continue to hear about the inadequate food, poor conditions and fear of retaliation at Etowah County Detention Center even more than a year after our tour of the facility,” said Women's Refugee Commission Program Specialist Katharina Obser. “Even if the facility implemented reforms, they would not mitigate its isolation from any meaningful legal services or the fact that most of the population there does not need to be detained in the first place.”

The Women's Refugee Commission has long advocated for the reduction of the use of immigration detention and an increase in the use of alternatives to detention, including community support programs. Many of the individuals detained in facilities like Etowah or others highlighted in the “Expose & Close” campaign could be released into community-based support programs that assist immigrants with their legal cases and social needs as they work their way through the U.S. immigration legal process. Whereas immigration detention costs, on average, $122 to $164 per day, alternatives to detention can be as low as a few cents to $30 per day. 

“No one should have to be confined for months on end without access to the outdoors or seeing a loved one,” said Obser. “There is a whole spectrum of alternatives to detention that are far more humane and that cost substantially less than confinement in a private prison or a county jail.”