Deportations from the United States require the cooperation of the countries to which individuals are being deported. When an individual cannot be deported because of complications in this process, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cannot, by law, simply detain those in limbo indefinitely. However, time after time, life after life, ICE violates due process and endangers the well-being of those in its custody by flouting the law and holding immigrants indefinitely.  

According to a new policy brief published by the American Immigration Council and AILA, many people are held in detention beyond the legal limit; as of early December 2020 AILA and the Council knew of 117 cases. It is very likely that many other cases exist at these and other facilities. The majority of the impacted individuals we are aware of are Cuban, as Cuba has not accepted deportation flights since March 2020, save for one flight reported on December 29, 2020, but legal service providers have also reported the prolonged detention of noncitizens from Bangladesh, Eritrea, Honduras, Sierra Leone, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. In the brief we argue that ICE should pause deportations during the COVID-19 pandemic and release under orders of supervision individuals who are still detained 90 days past their final orders of removal, providing community-based case management support to those who need it. 

But the asks of AILA and the American Immigration Council don’t stop there. Since its inception, the Immigration Justice Campaign has done extensive work to demonstrate the severe harms of detention, and countless Campaign clients have bravely spoken out about the egregious conditions they have enduredAmid the COVID-19 pandemic, the already-great risks associated with detention have skyrocketed, putting detained individuals, and the communities in which the detention centers are located, in grave danger. Immigration detention is part of our nation’s epidemic of mass incarceration, and benefits only the private prison companies that run the facilities.  

In 2021, the Justice Campaign will push for the abolition of immigration detention altogether. As we envision the future of immigration under the Biden-Harris administration and beyond, we must focus on supporting individuals as they pursue their immigration cases outside of detention where they can continue to care for themselves and their families in a healthy environment. While our robust efforts to increase representation for detained individuals will continue, our work will expand to include efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate funding for immigration detention beds and to shift that funding toward non-carceral investments that enable communities to be safe and thrive.  

In 2020, 421 Justice Campaign volunteers worked on a pro bono immigration case for a detained individual, 163 Justice Campaign clients fought for and won release from detention, and 5,750 Justice Campaign advocates spoke out against egregious policies that would gut the U.S. asylum system. All of this incredible work was done amid a global pandemic that wreaked unimaginable loss on our communities. As we map out plans to advocate in new and more effective ways for those seeking to build their lives in the United States in 2021, I am so proud to stand alongside this community, reflect on the work done despite the challenges of the past year, and look toward a more hopeful future.