Ilhan Omar Demands End to ICE Contracts As Kids Cram Into Showerless, 'Jail-Like' Custody

Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has urged President Joe Biden's administration to end contracts with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as reports emerged of squalid conditions faced by unaccompanied minors in detention facilities.

In a letter to Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Omar and 23 other members of Congress praised Biden's "commitment to addressing racial injustice and systemic inequity" through an executive order signed in January, which prevented the Department of Justice from renewing federal contracts with private prisons.

However, the group sought to push the administration towards severing contractual ties with ICE, the DHS agency that oversees immigration-related criminal activity.

"We support the calls from more than 70 Congressional offices to expand this Executive Order to incorporate privately operated immigration detention facilities under ICE," the letter read.

"However, privately operated immigration detention facilities are not the only instance in which financial incentives fuel needless expansion of immigration detention," it continues. "We urge the Biden administration to release an additional Executive Order announcing a plan to phase out contracts between ICE and state, county, and local jails and prisons."

"In order to truly sever the financial incentives causing the expansion of an unnecessary and abuse-ridden system of mass incarceration, we urge you to end contracts between the federal government and localities for the purposes of immigration detention."

Signatories to Omar's letter include Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA).

The push comes as news reports detailed conditions faced by unaccompanied minors in detention centers, with an added threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorneys from the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) who interviewed 20 children detained at a Border Patrol tent facility in Donna, Texas, told BuzzFeed they found children held in overcrowded areas without access to showers. Some of the children hadn't showered for six days, while others reported not being able to shower as frequently as they would have liked.

The NCYL said kids slept on mats on the floor, with some sleeping directly on the ground or benches when mats aren't available.

The children were also left without an opportunity to call their families. Some who crossed the border with siblings ended up unable to see them, as minors of different genders were held in separate places.

All the children were detained beyond their custody's three-day limit, with some held for as long as eight days. The children were "scared and confused about where they were and where they'd be going next," according to the report.

Leecia Welch, NYCL senior director of child welfare, told BuzzFeed a lot of the children said "they hadn't seen the sky," and that they could only see the sun when they took showers.

CBS News reported Border Patrol is holding more than 4,200 unaccompanied minors in temporary detention facilities as of Sunday, an increase from 3,200 the week before.

Reps. Tlaib, Omar, Pressley attend news conference
(L-R) Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) attend a news conference to discuss proposed legislation entitled Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act outside the U.S. Capitol on March 11, 2021 in Washington, DC. Tlaib and Pressley signed onto a letter by Omar urging the Biden administration to end contracts with ICE. Drew Angerer/Getty Images