By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service
Photo by Miriam Raftery: Otay Mesa Detention Center, where immigrants and refugees are housed
January 28, 2021 (Tacoma, Wash.) -- President Joe Biden signed an executive order this week ending the federal use of private prisons, but the order does not include privately run immigration facilities, like the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma and the Otay Mesa Detention Center San Diego County.
Formerly known as the Northwest Detention Center, the Tacoma facility is run by GEO Group and is one of the largest in the country. Otay Mesa’s is run by CoreCivic.
Maru Mora Villalpando, community organizer with the group La Resistencia, which has long called for the Tacoma center's shutdown, saw Biden's order as misleading.
"This is not the solution to the immigration detention enterprise that has been built," Villalpando contended. "And now we have to push him and his entire administration to start phasing out private detention and ultimately, close all detention centers."
The president's executive order is a continuation of an Obama-era policy. It directs the Justice Department not to renew its contracts with private prisons.
More than 14,000 people are housed in the facilities. As of one year ago, 81% of people detained in ICE custody were held in privately owned facilities, according to the ACLU.
Villalpando noted Washington state lawmakers are considering House Bill 1090, which would ban private, for-profit detention facilities.
"We can't rely on Congress or on the president to solve all these problems," Villalpando asserted. "These problems are so complicated that we need to work at every level possible."
House Bill 1090 is scheduled for an executive session today in the House Committee on Public Safety.
Villalpando said other states, including New Mexico and Maryland, also are working on banning private prisons.