Feds Seek Space at Private Ohio Prison to Detain Thousands of Undocumented Haitian Immigrants

The C-17 Globemaster from McChord Air Force Base airlifts Haitian evacuees to Orlando, Florida following deadly earthquake in 2010. Photo by Joshua Trujillo/AP.

The C-17 Globemaster from McChord Air Force Base airlifts Haitian evacuees to Orlando, Florida following a deadly earthquake in 2010. Photo by Joshua Trujillo/AP.


The Department of Homeland Security has its eye on a federal prison in Youngstown, Ohio to help it accommodate the influx of Haitian illegal immigrants who crossed the Mexican border into the U.S. following a catastrophic earthquake in 2010.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the federal agency is in talks with administrators of the Northeast Ohio Correctional Facility to lease extra space at the prison to house an expected influx of Haitian immigrants prior to deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are anticipating thousands more Haitian immigrants to enter the U.S. illegally in the coming months.

Negotiations between the DHS and Northeast Ohio Correctional Facility come just two months after the U.S. Justice Department announced plans to end its use of private prisons. Suggested use of the private Ohio prison, which is operated by CoreCivic — formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America — has become a major cause for concern among human rights advocates.

“Incarcerating thousands of immigrants in a private prison before deporting them is unjust and allowing a corporation to profit from it is a travesty,” Mike Brickner, senior policy director of the ACLU of Ohio, said in a statement. “The DHS’s decision to partner with private prisons sends a horrible message about profiteering at the expense of individuals seeking asylum.”

Brickner went on to note that many illegal immigrants detained by ICE are subject to abuse and mistreatment while awaiting deportation and immigration hearings. He called the feds’ partnership with the private prison company quite troubling.

“Incentivizing private companies to detain people for profit only exacerbates our criminal justice system problems,” he said. “To allow more people to be incarcerated for a profit in Ohio sends our state in the wrong direction.”

The DHS is reportedly looking to lease similar space in correctional facilities in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas due to the inflow of immigrants.

The Wall Street Journal reports that ICE is now holding over 40,000 people, while more than 5,000 Haitian immigrants have already crossed the Mexican border with hopes of entering the U.S. Once Haitian immigrants seeking asylum present themselves at U.S. ports of entry, they’re usually handed over to ICE and detained until they can be deported, according to the newspaper.

The mass deportation of Black immigrants — though kept quiet — is no new phenomenon. In July, ThinkProgress reported that ICE had discreetly deported dozens of African immigrants seeking asylum in America. An anonymous source from the agency told the news site that 63 men who were unable to secure visas to stay in the U.S. legally on humanitarian relief claims were sent back to Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal earlier this year.

Because immigration is largely seen as a Latino issue, most are unaware of the plight of Black immigrants who seek to stay permanently in the U.S. for fear of danger upon returning to their own countries.

“Many of the individuals that are Africans don’t have close family members or friends to assist them from the outside,” said Jessica Shulruff Schneider, a supervising attorney for Americans for Immigrant Justice. “It makes it virtually impossible to fight your case.”

According to a 2016 report by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and New York University Law School’s Immigrants Rights Clinic, Black immigrants make up 7 percent of the total immigrant population (about 3.4 million people) and 10.6 percent of all immigrants who were deported between 2003 and 2015. ICE deported 1,203 African immigrants in total during the 2014 fiscal year, ThinkProgress reports.

“One of the challenges that we at BAJI face in our work is that black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, are largely ‘invisible-lized’ in the public’s consciousness, so the face of the immigrant is often a Latino face,” policy and legal manager at Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Carl Lipscombe, told ThinkProgress.

“Largely these immigrants are in deportation proceedings as a result of a criminal conviction, or some sort of criminal contact,” Lipscombe added. “That can be anything from possession of a small amount of marijuana to petty larceny, some sort of theft of something of little value. Any of those types of offenses can result in someone being detained or deported.”

Like Black Americans, Black immigrants often get caught up in the criminal justice system as a result of bias and other racial factors. Immigrants with minor criminal convictions are often incarcerated and deported following immigration proceedings.

The mass deportation of Black immigrants is an ongoing issue, but immigration activists are hoping their strife will soon become more recognized within the larger scope of immigration politics.

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