Louisiana has become an unlikely epicenter for immigration detention, according to a recent report by The Associated Press. Citing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement figures, AP reported that ICE currently holds about 8,000 asylum seekers and other migrants in Louisiana out of 51,000 nationally. The agency uses a mix of old state prisons and local jails converted into immigration detention facilities.
These facilities are in rural areas several hours away from New Orleans and other cities where most immigrant rights groups and immigration lawyers are located, AP reports. Advocates blame the Trump administration for detaining legitimate asylum seekers who could otherwise be released with future court dates. They say the detention centers in Louisiana epitomize the problem.
The AP story focuses on the Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana. ICE and LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company that operates Winn, recently allowed an AP reporter and photographer to visit the facility. They were allowed to speak with only one detainee but learned from other sources that migrants complain of mistreatment and prolonged detention. LaSalle refused to comment on the complaints.
An important backdrop: Like several other states over the past decade or so, Louisiana has reformed its criminal justice system and, as a result, reduced its state prison population. The prospect of prison closures threatens the economies of the small towns in Louisiana that rely on the prisons for jobs and local revenue. As AP reports, ICE has stepped into the void, offering contracts that guarantee millions in payments to local governments, the state and private prison companies.
Photo: Downtown Winnfield, Louisiana.