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ICE to Stop Using Alabama Jail, Limit Use of 3 Others

FILE - A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement badge.

Federal immigration authorities announced Friday that they would stop housing detainees at an Alabama jail with a history of problems and would limit the use of three other detention centers.

The decisions reinforced a commitment by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to review detention facilities to determine whether they are humane, meet applicable standards and are a responsible use of funding, according to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement news release.

ICE said it would stop using the Etowah County Jail in Gadsden, Alabama, as soon as possible, taking into account a 30-day notification requirement. The jail has "a long history of serious deficiencies," the release said.

Advocates who have long sought the end of ICE detention at the Etowah County Jail hailed the news as a victory, but they urged federal authorities not to just transfer people from one facility to another.

"The Etowah County Detention Center exemplifies everything that is wrong with immigration detention and why the detention system must be abolished," Detention Watch Network advocacy director Setareh Ghandehari said in a news release. "The administration can and must do more to completely phase out the use of immigration detention by continuing to terminate contracts, shut down additional facilities and free people from detention."

'A bombshell'

Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton told The Gadsden Times that the decision to stop sending detainees to the jail "was just a bombshell," and that he was working with members of Alabama's congressional delegation to get more information.

Just this week, the center was notified that 135 detainees would be coming next week, he said.

"No one has canceled that," Horton said.

FILE — Immigration detainees leave the cafeteria under the watch of guards during a media tour at the Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, La., Sept. 26, 2019.
FILE — Immigration detainees leave the cafeteria under the watch of guards during a media tour at the Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, La., Sept. 26, 2019.

ICE said it would also limit its use of the Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven, Florida; the Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana; and the Alamance County Detention Facility in Graham, North Carolina.

ICE has reduced its use of the Glades County facility in recent years, in part because of "persistent and ongoing concerns related to the provision of detainee medical care." But it was still paying for a minimum number of beds and has now decided not to extend that guaranteed minimum bed provision.

'Huge steps'

Rebecca Talbot of the Immigrant Action Alliance credited organizing and resistance for ICE's policy change regarding the Glades County facility.

"Emptying Glades, ending the guaranteed minimum, and requiring Glades to fully address conditions that do not meet detention standards are all huge steps in the right direction," Talbot said in a news release. "Now it's time for the Biden administration to commit to closing Glades fully and forever, and to release those who have been transferred from Glades to other facilities."

ICE had been using the Alamance County facility for long-term detention but said it would now use it only for stays of less than 72 hours if applicable standards were met. The agency said it was concerned about conditions, including a lack of outdoor recreation.

ICE plans to reduce the guaranteed minimum at Winn Correctional Center to match the facility's staffing constraints, the release said. ICE will also assign a custody resource coordinator to provide an assessment and will monitor conditions and take actions as needed, the release said.

ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson has told staff to begin preparations, including relocating ICE staff and detainees as needed. The agency said it planned to continue to review other detention centers and adjust its use as appropriate.