Our Voices

Pine Prairie’s Depopulation Prompts Celebration, Demand for Eradication of Immigrant Detention in Louisiana

After years of advocacy, reporting, and legal action by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, grassroots organizations, and detained persons, for-profit immigrant detention center Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Louisiana has been fully depopulated as of the end of 2023. The move, celebrated by those who have worked for the Pine Prairie’s closure for years, is also serving as a rallying cry to remove such facilities entirely from the state and beyond.

The news of the facility’s depopulation comes on the heels of a 2023 federal lawsuit against Pine Prairie’s operators filed by RFK Human Rights and other partners. It also follows a 2021 human rights report and civil complaint on abuses at Pine Prairie, co-authored by RFKHR.

The lawsuit, J.K.A. et al. v. United States of America, and K.N.N. et al. v. United States of America was filed in August 2023 on behalf of two Cameroonian men held at Pine Prairie after applying for asylum in the United States. Detention center officers pepper sprayed them and threw them in solitary confinement for peacefully protesting racist targeting by guards and denial of medical care. RFKHR filed a related suit, K.N.N. et al. v. United States of America, in partnership with the Texas A&M University Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic in September 2023. That lawsuit seeks accountability for deported Cameroonian asylum seekers whom U.S. officials tied up in a full-body restraint device called the WRAP for their hours-long trans-Atlantic flight. In both cases, once the flights landed in Cameroon, U.S. officials illegally facilitated access to plaintiffs’ asylum documents by Cameroonian officials, who imprisoned them as traitors. Both cases are currently pending in the District Court of the District of Columbia.

GEO Group, the private prison company that runs Pine Prairie, is set to end its operations of the detention facility by the end of the year. While ICE leadership and GEO Group referenced staffing issues as the official reason for the facility’s shutdown, advocates have pressured for Pine Prairie’s closure for years.

The 2021 report highlighted widespread human rights abuses at Pine Prairie, including prolonged and racially discriminatory use of solitary confinement; unsafe COVID-19 procedures; and lack of access to basic necessities such as safe food and water.

Black immigrants are especially vulnerable to abuse in immigration detention, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has stressed. They’re more than six times more likely to be locked away in solitary confinement than other racial groups, and to suffer prolonged and arbitrary immigration detention.

On December 20, the Southeast Dignity Not Detention (SDND) coalition, a group of local and national organizations committed to immigrants’ rights, applauded Pine Prairie’s impending closure, calling for the release of those detained at Pine Prairie versus transfer to equally inhumane detention facilities.

Building on the momentum of this upcoming closure, the coalition remains committed to stopping abuses across the broader network of immigrant detention facilities within the New Orleans ICE Field Office.

“This victory shows that community pressure and partnership with detained human rights defenders works,” Anthony Enriquez, VP of U.S. Advocacy and Litigation at RFK Human Rights and member of the SDND coalition said. “And our coalition won’t stop until immigration detention is out of Louisiana for good.”