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Atlanta Mayor Considers Future Of City Contract To House ICE Detainees

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said her office is now gathering a group of experts on immigrant detention to come up with recommendations about what should happen next with the city’s longtime contract with the U.S. Marshals office to house U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees in the city’s jails. She said ending the contract was an option she would consider.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said her office is now gathering a group of experts on immigrant detention to come up with recommendations about what should happen next with the city’s longtime contract with the U.S. Marshals office to house U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees in the city’s jails. She said ending the contract was an option she would consider.
Credit Lisa Hagen / WABE
Audio version of this story here.

The mayor of Atlanta says she’s considering ending a federal contract to house U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees in the city’s jail.

Within minutes of President Donald Trump’s executive order Wednesday reversing his administration’s family separation policy, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced her own: No new ICE detainees will enter the Atlanta City Detention Center.

Bottoms had cited Trump’s policy as the reason behind her temporary executive order to freeze housing immigrant detainees.

“Like so many of you all, I have been horrified to watch the news over the past week or so, to see what is happening to families in the United States of America,” Bottoms told the press Thursday at City Hall.

The timing of the clashing orders prompted immediate questions about whether her decision would stand.

It does, for now.

Since her order, nine incoming ICE detainees have been diverted to Irwin County Detention Center. The city is holding about 200 detainees who were brought there before the order. She said she doesn’t believe any of them are there as a result of Trump’s recent family separation policy.

“Most of our detainees are either picked up in the metro area or they are asylum-seekers who come through our airport,” Bottoms said.

Bottoms said her office is now gathering a group of experts on immigrant detention to come up with recommendations about what should happen next. She said ending the city’s longtime contract with the U.S. Marshals office to house detainees was an option she would consider.

“I think that all things will be on the table,” Bottoms said.

The city is paid $78 per person, per day to house ICE detainees. The contract brought in more than $7 million this fiscal year, which makes up more than one-fifth of the detention center’s annual $33 million budget.

Bottoms said she does have concerns about where detainees will be held, if not in the city.

“It would be simple if we could say, ‘If we didn’t house detainees, then they wouldn’t be picked up.’ But they will be picked up, and they will be sent somewhere,” she said.

“The other two [detention centers], as I understand, are for-profit centers with less-than-desirable conditions and no access quite often to the resources that we offer in the city of Atlanta,” said Bottoms, adding that family members may face difficulty driving several hours to either the Irwin and Stewart facilities.

Kevin Caron with Georgia Detention Watch says detainees are regularly transferred at the will of ICE to facilities in the state or beyond.

“I have not talked to a single person who said, ‘I prefer the Atlanta City Detention Center to the Stewart Detention Center.’ These folks want out of being incarcerated,” said Caron, who’s visited with ICE detainees throughout Georgia for years.

He says all of the facilities have negative aspects.

“[ACDC] is a city jail. It’s meant for short-term storage of people,” Caron said. “They have long lockdown hours at ACDC, whereas some of the other facilities attempt to operate as something else.”

He said he would support ending the contract.