As ICE Ends Use of Notorious Detention Facility in Louisiana, Advocates Call for Releases

Pine Prairie, LA, December 20, 2023 – The Southeast Dignity Not Detention (SDND) coalition, a group of local and national organizations committed to immigrants’ rights, today applauds the impending closure of the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center (Pine Prairie), a remote immigrant detention center in Louisiana with a long history of human rights abuses and inhumane conditions. The coalition is also calling on the Biden administration to immediately release the more than 100 community members who have been cruelly transferred to Winn Correctional Center (Winn), another privately-run, understaffed, and long-troubled immigration detention center in Louisiana.

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. Long plagued by systemic racism, egregious human rights violations, and abuse amounting to torture, detained immigrants and rights groups have filed numerous federal civil rights complaints to the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

Coalition members also published a comprehensive report in 2021 highlighting 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.

“After years of complaints and ongoing lawsuits we’ve brought to seek accountability for abuses at Pine Prairie, the federal government finally understands that the only solution is to shut it down,” said Anthony Enriquez, VP of U.S. Advocacy and Litigation at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and member of the SDND coalition. “This victory shows that community pressure and partnership with detained human rights defenders works. And our coalition won’t stop until immigration detention is out of Louisiana for good.”

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 (NOLA ICE). As part of Pine Prairie’s depopulation process, ICE has already transferred up to 100 individuals to Winn. Given the well-documented pattern of abuse at Winn, the SDND coalition calls for the release of all individuals already transferred to Winn.

“They should have released me when they closed out Pine Prairie,” said Jose Pedro, a man from Ecuador who was transferred from Pine Prairie to Winn on December 8, 2023. “I have no criminal history and I have extensive evidence to show that my family members have been killed by terrorists and that I am fleeing for my own life. I am not even asking for asylum or any help from this country. Just to be allowed to live with my sponsor here until the active threat to my life in Ecuador is over. I just don’t want to die. My family has all the means to support me and my sponsor is waiting for me at home in New Jersey. I should be spending Christmas with them, not in this nightmare of a prison.”

“I was at Winn yesterday, and the water is still yellow, still clearly contaminated,” said Tania Wolf, an organizing member of the SDND coalition. “It is full to the brim with people and extremely understaffed. This place has consistently been a hazard. During a tour of the facility in June, there was no working AC in the kitchen despite the extremely high temperatures and exposure to pests. The vast majority of the more than 80 men we visited who were unnecessarily subjected to transfer here from Pine Prairie, instead of being released, present no danger to anyone, have loved ones eager to receive them, and are in utter despair.”

“I was at Winn for a hearing on December 12, after many of the transfers from Pine Prairie had taken place,” said Homero López, legal director at Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy (ISLA) and steering member of the SDND coalition. “It was chaotic! They do not have the staff necessary to meet the needs of so many people. They’re also in the process of retrofitting the facility to have 8-10 virtual ‘courtrooms’ and 8-10 virtual attorney visitation rooms. It’s clear that the goal is to remove any human contact and humanity from the process and instead use the space as a warehouse from which to summarily deport people as quickly as possible.”

“They treat us here like we do not exist,” added Pedro. “You have to put bed sheets on the table just to eat on a surface not covered in rust, there’s maggots and flies and mold, and the staff either abuse you or ignore you completely. This is how they treat me because I do not speak English. I saw them take away a Senegalese man’s prayer mat in the middle of praying to his God. I saw a guard pull back the curtains on men showering, just to humiliate them. I know my rights, I have my evidence, but what does it matter if this is where I am being left to rot with no recourse, with no one to bother listening to my words? Me and the over 100 other men they shackled at the wrists, belly, and ankles to be bussed here unnecessarily, and against our will from Pine Prairie, with little to no notice, thought that jail was bad. Winn is not even fit for animals.”

“Winn serves no purpose but to line the pockets of the private prison company that runs it for ICE, all at the expense of the health and safety of its employees and all the people trapped inside,” said Mich González, associate executive director of Freedom for Immigrants and steering member of the SDND coalition. “This mass caging does nothing to keep anyone safe or to ensure fair legal procedures are followed. In fact, the only thing it effectively does cause is the opposite — premature death, illness, psychological torture, and mass deprivation of due process. I’ve been visiting and working with people inside Winn for many years, and I have seen first-hand the irrevocable devastation detention causes. This holiday season, we’re calling for releases to uphold family unity. Every person detained at Winn right now has a family or loved one waiting for them to come home.”

In addition to calling for releases of detained immigrants transferred to Winn, the SDND also made the following demands of the Biden administration:

  • Pine Prairie must never be reopened;

  • Evangeline Parish should gain speedy, meaningful access to federal funding so that the local economy can be built upon healthy, well-paid jobs instead of incarceration;

  • ICE must immediately release everyone inside Winn, especially those who were mass transferred from Pine Prairie without review for their release; and

  • DHS must not renew its contract for Winn, which is set to expire in May 2024.

About the Southeast Dignity Not Detention Coalition

The Southeast Dignity Not Detention Coalition is a group of nonprofits and grassroots organizations committed to advancing immigrants’ rights through legal and community support services.