In a Monday letter to Susan Rice, the director of the domestic policy council, Omar noted that Biden had already taken an important step toward this goal when he ordered the Department of Justice to end the use of private prisons. But Omar urged the administration to apply the same principle throughout the country’s incarceration system, which includes privately operated immigrant detention centers as well as state, county, and local jails that partner with ICE.
In some cases, Omar said, ICE will offer these jails and prisons a much higher rate for detaining immigrants than the standard rates for people taken into criminal custody, allowing localities to profit from helping ICE.
“This financial incentive has fueled the expansion of immigration detention throughout the country, including in states such as Louisiana, which successfully reduced criminal incarceration levels, only to re-fill those same beds with immigrants,” she wrote. “Profit incentives to reduce one form of incarceration at the expense of expanding another come at particular cost to Black and Brown immigrants, who are doubly vulnerable to aggressive surveillance and incarceration in the context of both criminal justice and civil immigration enforcement.”
About two-dozen other members of Congress co-signed the letter, including Reps. Pramila Jayapal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, and Jamaal Bowman.
Immigration is poised to be one of the next big policy areas Biden tries to tackle, and the one he is likely to receive the most scrutiny over. In the past couple of weeks, an increase of migrant children at the border along with news that the Biden administration decided to reopen a controversial detention center to house them has outraged people on either side of the aisle. For those on the right, it signaled that Biden won’t be “tough” enough on immigration; and for many of those on the left, it was a worrying sign that aspects of Biden’s immigration policy will only be superficially different than Trump’s. Children may not be in cages, but they will be in tents.
Biden, devoted to bipartisanship, will want to find a way to please members of both parties. That automatically means compromise, something the president is well aware of: According to the Washington Post, the Biden administration will accept “piecemeal revisions” to current immigration law if Biden’s more sweeping plan is politically impossible.
But what Omar and her colleagues are asking for doesn’t require whipping votes in the Senate—Biden can end the ICE contracts through executive order, as he did when he ended the country’s use of private prisons.
“In order to truly sever the financial incentives causing the expansion of an unnecessary and abuse-ridden system of mass incarceration, we urge you to end contracts between the federal government and localities for the purposes of immigration detention,” Omar concluded in Monday’s letter. “At a moment where immigration detention levels are at their lowest in a generation, now is the time to act.”