Applauding the Closure of the Bristol County Immigration Detention Facility
STATEMENT OF SAVINO COUNSEL ON CLOSURE OF BRISTOL COUNTY IMMIGRATION DETENTION FACILITY
As immigrant rights and civil rights groups that have long raised humanitarian concerns about Bristol County’s ICE detention facility, we applaud today’s decision by the Biden/Harris Administration to shutter the facility and end the agreement that deputized Bristol County officers to act as federal immigration agents (“287(g) agreement”). The Bristol County House of Correction (BCHOC), overseen by Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, is notorious for its inhumane and unconstitutional treatment of civil immigration detainees. Today’s announcement is an encouraging sign that the Biden/Harris Administration is taking concrete steps to reform some of the worst abuses in our nation’s immigration system.
“Today’s decision to close the Bristol County ICE detention facility is long overdue,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) 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.” LCR has frequently clashed with Sheriff Hodgson in court, most recently in Savino v Souza, the landmark class action challenging unsafe and overcrowded conditions at BCHOC during the COVID-19 pandemic. Savino resulted in the reduction of the population at BCHOC from 148 when the lawsuit was filed in March 2020 to just seven individuals today. The federal judge overseeing the lawsuit ruled that the government had likely been “deliberately indifferent” to detainees’ risk of COVID-19 infection and ordered the release of dozens of individuals to safely quarantine at home.
“We are grateful and very pleased that Secretary Mayorkas is ending immigration detention at Bristol County,” said Professor Michael J. Wishnie, Co-Director of the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School and co-counsel on the Savino litigation. “This decision recognizes that Sheriff Hodgson is unfit to care for incarcerated persons. It also implements the recommendation of Attorney General Maura Healey, whose investigation last year found that Sheriff Hodgson and his staff committed serious civil rights violations against immigrants in their custody, and of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has led the state congressional delegation in seeking this outcome.”
Community groups have long called for BCHOC’s closure and have been joined recently in that call by Massachusetts Senators Warren and Markey and by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Attorney General Healey’s recommendation followed an investigation by her office into a May 1, 2020 disturbance at the facility, and a finding of “institutional failures and poor decisions by [BCHOC] leadership … [that] culminated in a calculated—that is, planned and deliberate—use of force against . . . detainees that was disproportionate to the security needs at that time and that unnecessarily caused, or risked causing, harm to all involved.”
“As a Nation, we are currently holding thousands of people in detention based solely on their immigration status,” said Oren Nimni, Litigation Director of Rights Behind Bars (RBB). “There is no cogent justification for this, and certainly when a facility has inflicted the type of ongoing harm on people that has characterized BCHOC for years, it is appropriate and right to shut the place down.” In addition to its work on the Savino class action, RBB has filed a separate lawsuit with LCR arguing that Massachusetts sheriffs’ “287(g) agreements” with ICE, which purport to allow sheriffs to perform federal immigration enforcement activities, are invalid under state law.