The Biden administration has decided to stop detaining immigrants in a pair of county jails facing federal probes in Georgia and Massachusetts, calling the decision an “important first step” in a broader review of the nation’s sprawling network of immigration jails.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Thursday ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to immediately terminate its contract with the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office in Massachusetts and to transfer the few remaining detainees elsewhere. He also directed ICE to rescind an agreement with the sheriff’s office that trained deputies to screen inmates arrested for crimes to see if they are also eligible for deportation.

Mayorkas also directed ICE to “as soon as possible” sever its contracts with the Irwin County Detention Center in rural Georgia, a more complicated endeavor because the facility is county-owned but run by a private contractor.

Federal officials chose the two facilities mainly because their detention rosters have shrunk and they are “no longer operationally necessary,” said a Department of Homeland Security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s deliberations. Bristol is holding seven detainees out of nearly 200 beds; Irwin has 114 detainees out of almost 1,000 beds.

Both county jails are also under federal investigation for complaints of abuses against immigrants — allegations that remain open and unresolved — and those factored into Mayorkas’s decision, the official said.

In a memo to ICE directing the changes, Mayorkas said his “foundational principle” is that “we will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention.”

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