US plans to close 4 immigration detention centers over concerns

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The US immigration authority plans to close a struggling detention center in Alabama and reduce the number of contract beds at three other facilities for unsuitable conditions, according to an internal government document.

According to the document, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will cease using the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, saying it has “long been a facility of great concern, due to the amount , the seriousness, the diversity and the persistence of the defects noted during the inspections of the facilities.”

Although the facility does not currently house many inmates, the average length of stay remains high, the draft memo said, adding that the prison’s age and lack of outdoor space were of particular concern.

The memo also says the agency will suspend use of Glades County Detention Center in Florida, where there have been “persistent and ongoing concerns related to the provision of medical care at the facility.”

Immigration advocates have complained for years about the lack of adequate medical care and other problems at several ICE facilities and have urged the administration of President Joe Biden, a Democrat, to close the centers. ICE currently detains nearly 22,000 immigrants in facilities across the country.

Under Biden, ICE arrests and deportations of immigrants living illegally in the United States have plummeted compared to the administration of his predecessor, Republican President Donald Trump. The agency has reduced the emphasis on law enforcement against immigrants with no criminal history to prioritize apprehending those who commit serious crimes.

An announcement on detention changes was expected on Friday, according to three US officials familiar with the matter. ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The document says ICE will also reduce the “guaranteed minimum” number of contracted beds at the Alamance County Detention Center in North Carolina and the Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana, citing in part reduced inmate numbers.

The measures are likely to draw criticism from Republicans who have said Biden is encouraging illegal immigration, pointing to a record number of migrant arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border that are expected to rise further this year. However, most migrants stopped at the border were immediately deported under a current policy aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 in places of detention.

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