Louisiana Decided to Curb Mass Incarceration. Then ICE Showed Up.

The agency has tripled its immigrant detention capacity, filling jails the state had tried to empty

In June 2017, before signing a historic suite of criminal justice reform bills, Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, declared, “I’m not proud of our title as the most incarcerated state, but that now is going to be part of our history.” True to his word, the governor announced one year later that his state no longer had the nation’s highest incarceration rate.

But Louisiana was on the verge of a different sort of incarceration boom that would wipe out much of that progress.

As Louisiana began to send fewer people to jail and release inmates more quickly, Immigration and Customs Enforcement stepped in to fill the void. Since February, ICE has started housing detained immigrants at three new jails in the state, doubling the agency’s capacity in Louisiana. In the coming weeks or months, Louisiana may surpass California to become the state with the second-most ICE detainees, behind Texas.

ICE has long lacked the capacity in its facilities to house all the migrants it detains, a shortfall that’s worsened as the Trump administration moves toward mandatory detention of asylum seekers. Increasingly, the agency is contracting with local jails to make up the difference. But when migrants are sent to places like rural Louisiana, it becomes much harder for them to win asylum.

Louisiana has far fewer immigration attorneys than states like California and Texas. ICE’s New Orleans office, which oversees all detainees in Louisiana, denies nearly every parole application, meaning detainees have to fight their cases and assemble the documents that back up their claims from jail.

When asylum seekers finally make it to court, Louisiana’s immigration judges deny almost all of their asylum claims. One judge, Agnelis Reese, denied every asylum claim she’d heard between 2014 and 2018. For an administration intent on quickly deporting asylum seekers with minimal due process, there is probably no better place to send people than Louisiana.

By Noah Lonard for MOTHER JONES

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