The Biden Administration directed the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday to discontinue use of a detention center in Bristol County, Massachusetts, saying it is no longer needed.
“Allow me to state one foundational principle: We will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in announcing the decision.
The remaining detainees at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center in North Dartmouth will be transferred out of the facility and ICE's contract with the Bristol County Sheriff's Office to manage it will be terminated. A second immigration detention center in Georgia was also ordered closed. A Homeland Security official told The Washington Post that the two facilities were chosen because they are no longer operationally necessary. Bristol is holding only seven detainees out of its nearly 200 beds.
The Massachusetts jail has been accused of overcrowding and overall inhumane conditions. The allegations are the subject of an ongoing federal investigation.
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“We have an obligation to make lasting improvements to our civil immigration detention system,” Mayorkas said. “This marks an important first step to realizing that goal. DHS detention facilities and the treatment of individuals in those facilities will be held to our health and safety standards. Where we discover they fall short, we will continue to take action as we are doing today.”
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson blasted Mayorkas in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.
"Shame on Department of Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas for putting
his left-wing political agenda above public safety by ending the Bristol County
Sheriff’s Office contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement," he said. "This is nothing but a political hit job orchestrated by Sec. Mayorkas, the Biden
administration and other anti-law enforcement groups to punish outspoken critics
and advance their partisan agenda to score political points."
Massachusetts' all Democratic legislative delegation, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Reps. Richard Neal, James McGovern, William Keating, Katherine Clark, Ayanna Pressley, Seth Moulton, Lori Trahan and Jake Auchincloss, lauded the Biden Administration's decision in a joint statement released Thursday.
"We commend the Biden administration for its decision to formally terminate its immigration-detention agreements with the Bristol County Sheriff's Office. This is a just and humane step," they said in a statement. "An investigation by the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office found that the BCSO violated the civil rights of immigrants in its care and custody. These findings made clear that the BCSO should not be engaged in immigrant detention. Every person has the right to dignity, safety, and due process. This decision affirms that right, and is a victory for the detainees, families, lawyers, and advocates who have pushed for more accountability and more humane treatment by the BCSO."
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey issued a report in December that found that Bristol County Sheriff's Office violated the civil rights of federal immigration detainees while responding to a disturbance in the unit where they were housed on May 1, 2020. Her office recommended a series of reforms to address the systemic issues at the facility and protect the rights of detainees. One of those recommendations was that Homeland Security terminate its partnership with the sheriff's office.
“We commend DHS for ending its partnership with the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, which has a long history of abuse and neglect of immigration detainees," Healey said in a statement Thursday. "Our extensive investigation and advocacy have made it clear that the Sheriff’s Office is not willing to take any steps to protect the rights and safety of detainees, and that ICE must sever ties with BCSO. This decision under the Biden Administration ensures that the civil rights of immigrants are protected and not violated in a callous disregard for human life and dignity.”
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, also issued a statement.
“The end of ICE contracts with Bristol County is a long overdue and critical step in decoupling Massachusetts law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement. It is particularly important because it strips Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who carried out the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda with zeal, of custodial responsibility for detained immigrants," she said.
“Today’s decision to close the Bristol County ICE detention facility is long overdue,” added Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston. “Sheriff Hodgson has inflicted grievous harm on vulnerable immigrants in his custody for years, and we enthusiastically applaud the Biden Administration’s decision to put an immediate end to the abuse.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.