Congresswoman Advocates Ban on Immigration Agencies Contracting with Private Prisons

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and 16 other lawmakers sent a letter to the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, requesting that Congress prohibit US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) from contracting with private prisons.

In the letter, which was sent in late March, Velázquez (D-N.Y.) requested that the annual funding bill for the departments of Commerce, Justice, and State should prohibit ICE and CBP from contracting with private prison facilities. “We are concerned over the use of federal funds to subsidize private prisons involved in immigration enforcement,” the letter read. “Such prisons are [disproportionately] used for immigration purposes.”

Velázquez cited a 2017 NPR report which found that ICE issued over $2 billion to private prison facilities. It pointed to a prison in Louisiana which partnered with ICE to focus on the deportation of inmates instead of prioritizing their health needs. At least 236 detainees had confirmed or probable cases of mumps in 51 facilities in the past 12 months, compared to no cases detected between January 2016 and February 2018, CNBC reported.

CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said that the increase in mumps-related quarantine orders is a result of increasing numbers of Central American migrants in the detention centers. However, CNBC found that vaccination rates against diseases like the mumps “are above 90 percent” among Central Americans. “Such allegations at private prisons seriously undermine our collective responsibility to ensure that detainees — regardless of their immigration status — are treated with respect and provided humane living conditions,” Velázquez’s letter noted.

The letter has been signed by 16 other members of Congress, including New York Representatives Gregory Meeks, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Kathleen Rice, John Lewis (D-Ga.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas). “We’ve heard numerous terrifying stories of private prisons allowing inhumane conditions to persist in their tireless pursuit of profit,” Velázquez wrote. “The federal government should not be complicit in allowing unscrupulous actors in the prison industrial complex to profit by treating undocumented immigrants unfairly and inhumanely.”

This is not the first time Representative Velázquez has advocated for the rights of people in detention centers and prisons. In February, she rallied outside of a detention center in Brooklyn, New York where hundreds of incarcerated people were without power or heat, and couldn't reach out to their families or lawyers, CBS News reported. The power outage lasted for about a week.

Velázquez and other New York representatives who visited the facility urged the Federal Bureau of Prisons to restore power. Velázquez tweeted that officials working for the prison “have disregarded the basic human rights of inmates.” On Monday, Velázquez introduced a bill to Congress that would stop ICE and Border Patrol agents from wearing clothing with the word “police” on it, The Los Angeles Times reported. In a press release, Velázquez said the bill will also make law enforcement officials safer because there is reportedly videos and images surfacing of immigration officers identifying themselves as police while conducting raids.

“Not only are ICE raids an unconscionable attack on our most vulnerable communities, any attempt by immigration officers to deceivingly pose as local police ought to be prohibited,” Velázquez said in the release. “After holding various ‘Know Your Rights’ workshops in my district, I’ve heard firsthand from families who fear reporting crime or engaging with the police due to the potential of getting caught up with immigration agents. This only makes our communities less safe.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.