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Migrant Justice: Butler County (OH) Jail Will No Longer Cage Immigrants in “Civil” Detention"

*Thank you to Ohio Immigrant Alliance for the article*

Note: Butler County Jail is located in Hamilton, OH, about 20 miles north of Cincinnati. The jail is one of four county jails in Ohio that has been under contract with ICE to detain immigrants. As a result of our organizing across the state (#FreeThemAll), the Morrow County Jail (Mount Gilead, OH, about 40 miles NE of Columbus) announced earlier this year that it is also ending its contract with ICE. Two county jails in Ohio continue to detain immigrants: Geauga County (Chardon, OH) and Seneca County (Tiffin, OH). 

The Butler County Jail is getting out of the business of “civil” immigration detention, and the community is celebrating. Advocates and lawyers spoke with reporters about this development in a Zoom meeting on May 28, which included remarks from people who had spent time in that jail.

If you missed it, watch the press conference here. Hear testimony from Abdoulaye Lam and Demba Diawara, two Ohio fathers who spent months in Butler County Jail before being deported. 

Also speaking on the call were Danya Contractor with Ohio Immigrant Visitation; Anna Nathanson, Norris Law Group; Sandra Ramirez; IJPC’s Youth Educating Society; and Brian Hoffman, OCSILiO: The Ohio Center for Strategic Immigration Litigation & OutreachLynn Tramonte of the Ohio Immigrant Alliance moderated the call. 

Danya referenced the courage of immigrants reporting these abuses. She said the next move for ICE must be to release people from Butler, so they can continue their cases from home, with lawyers. Danya specifically referenced the case of Sara Mendez-Morales. Sara remains detained in Butler, despite being a victim of sexual abuse and trafficking. She was granted immigration relief by a judge under the Convention Against Torture, yet the U.S. government continues to appeal Sara’s case and refuse to release her from immigration jail.  Now, with the Butler contract ending, ICE must release her to her children. 

Anna discussed the lawsuit that her firm filed against the Butler County Jail for racist and violent abuse against two ICE detainees. She called for her clients, Bayong Brown Bayong and Ahmed Adem, to be released, and pledged to litigate the lawsuit fully.

Brian described the absurdity of jailing people for civil paperwork issues, and the inhumanity of their treatment. The expensive phone calls to try to obtain documents needed to prove their immigration case. The remote locations, far away from most immigration lawyers. 

Data from TRAC shows that immigrants in Ohio are ten times more likely to succeed in immigration court if they have a lawyer.Suddenly the “logic” behind the remote locations and oppressive conditions becomes clear: the system is designed to break people’s spirits and give up on their cases, rather than to succeed. For this reason and many others, we need to end ICE detention now. Read on for additional background on the policy, human impacts, and better alternatives.


For years, county jails fed off of a federal contract to detain immigrants for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), while they fight their deportation cases. In exchange for a daily, per person fee, the jailers agreed to provide a certain standard of care, like edible food and access to doctors. 

In at least two Ohio jails with ICE contracts, however, that standard of care existed only on paper, not in real life. When the Morrow County Jail failed to follow basic infectious disease protocols, the entire jail became infected with COVID-19. An ACLU of Ohio lawsuit and community pushback forced ICE to stop using this facility to detain immigrants

Years of inhumane and racist treatment of immigrants at the Butler County Jail, including violent assaults, finally caught up with Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones. Two brave immigrants, Bayong Brown Bayong and Ahmed Adem, reported beatings at the hands of Butler corrections officers and filed a civil rights lawsuit with the Norris Law Group and John Camillus. Dozens more people reported incidents, including gross medical neglect of cancer patients, in a civil rights complaint filed with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. 

Now, Sheriff Jones’ ICE contract is being severed, because he doesn’t want to have to offer this basic standard of care. This news follows other ICE contract terminations with the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center in Massachusetts and the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. 

“Allow me to state one foundational principle,” wrote DHS Secretary Mayorkas in a memo about those terminations. “We will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention.” 

This statement stands in stark contrast to the values of the previous administration. But ending abuse of immigrants in ICE jail is not enough. Ending the contract at Butler is not enough. The people detained there–and in other U.S. immigration jails–need to be released. As Peter Markowitz writes in a groundbreaking paper about a new system for immigration enforcement that is logical and humane: 

Virtually every other federal agency in the administrative state has found a way to enforce its civil administrative scheme without putting people in cages. There is no reason why deportation proceedings, or even the deportation process itself, must begin with handcuffs. 

In place of inhumane, costly, and unnecessary detention, the federal government can ensure appearance and compliance with court orders by providing counsel and support for those who need it, through proven community-based management programs, as well as incentives for compliance and reentry services for those who ultimately face deportation.

report from the Detention Watch Network (DWN) lays out specific ways the Biden administration can further reduce immigration detention. Ending contracts is critical. As NPR reports, the U.S. taxpayers are already spending over $1 million per day on detention space that is not being used. DWN recommends that the cost savings in ending detention be used to repurpose facilities into spaces that actually benefit the community, and support alternative economic development in places that turned to incarceration for job creation.