While members of Congress were struggling to reach a bipartisan deal in February in order to end the government shutdown, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) quietly expanded its complicated network of immigration jails—this time in the Deep South.

In late June, ICE started using three jails in Louisiana and Mississippi, with bed-space for 4,000 people. Just two years ago—at the beginning of the Trump presidency—ICE had the capacity to hold only about 2,000 people. This expansion increase’s ICE’s capacity in Louisiana and Mississippi by 50 percent.

All three of the detention centers are run by private prison companies: Adams County Correctional Center in Mississippi is run by CoreCivic, the Catahoula Correctional Center in Louisiana is run by LaSalle Corrections, and the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center is run by GEO Group.

Private prison companies are driven by financial incentive and so historically have cut corners in order to maximize profit. As a result, privately run jails are chronically understaffed in order to save money and incarcerated individuals may have more limited access to critical services, including medical care and adequate food.

This expansion is particularly concerning given the long and horrifying track record of human rights abuses, staff mistreatment, and inadequate medical care in these facilities in recent years. Deplorable conditions at one of the jails—the Adams County prison—contributed to a 2012 riot that left one guard dead and at least a dozen people injured.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in May that it would no longer use Adams County to hold federal inmates, giving ICE—and CoreCivic, which now runs Adams County—the chance to take over.

In fact, the horrifying conditions in facilities just like these were uncovered by Mother Jones in the summer of 2016, when an investigative reporter went undercover for four months as a guard at a CoreCivic-run jail in Louisiana.

Ramping up ICE detention in the Deep South is particularly problematic given the remoteness of the facilities, and their distance from available attorneys, expert witnesses, and loved ones.  The region is notorious for particularly harsh immigration judges. Many of the hearings are likely to be heard by video teleconference (VTC), which disadvantages immigrants.  Attorneys and advocates have complained that video technology often breaks down, and the lines may have bad sound quality.

Congress must fully exercise its constitutional oversight authority and hold ICE accountable for repeatedly overspending its detention budget. Further, the Trump administration must decrease its over-reliance on private prison companies, which systemically cut corners at the cost of the well-being and health of the individuals in their custody. Until that happens, individuals in facilities like Adams County, Catahoula, and South Louisiana Processing Center will continue to suffer out of sight of attorneys.

Photo by Charles Reed