Over the past year, Louisiana has become the unlikely hub of immigrant detention in the United States. Eight thousand migrants out of 51,000 nationally are being detained across eight jails in the state, the Associated Press reported.
One of the challenges for immigrants is the location of the eight detention centers. They are a mix of state prisons and local jails outside of New Orleans or any other major city. They are in rural areas, which means they typically are far from most immigrant rights groups and immigration lawyers.
“Just the fact that you’re detaining people in such rural, isolated places makes it not only difficult for the person themselves to fight their case, but it even makes it nearly impossible for them to get attorneys to represent them,” Homero López, executive director of the New Orleans-based Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy, told the Associated Press.
The immigrants’ complaints are similar to elsewhere in the country — mistreatment from guards and being held for long periods of time, according to the Associated Press.
Louisiana’s population growth of detained immigrants has happened simultaneously with a drop in the state’s prison population, which is threatening the economy of small towns that rely on their local jails. But the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement noticed and quickly stepped into that void and increased pay for guards.
According to the Associated Press, at the Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana, employee salaries have risen from $10 an hour to $18.50. The contracts with ICE have come with contracts worth millions of dollars for the local government.
Detaining migrants has become a lucrative business for smaller cities.
While other states have rejected ICE and limited their contracts with prisons and jails, Louisiana has welcomed them.
California and Illinois have already banned private immigration jails completely. Even in a state as conservative as Texas, the Republican-majority government in Williamson County voted to end ICE detention at a 500-bed jail there.