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20 Members of Congress Call for an End to the Indefinite Detention of Immigrants

July 2, 2014

via the Office of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard:

Seal_of_the_United_States_House_of_RepresentativesMembers urge the Department of Homeland Security to reform America’s unfair and inhumane detention system

Washington, DC – Yesterday, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Congressman Ted Deutch (FL-21), Congressman Bill Foster (IL-11) and Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09) led a group of 20 Members of Congress in writing a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, calling on him to reform his Department’s flawed immigration detention policies.  The letter follows President Obama’s statement earlier this week that he intended to use his executive authority to address the worst aspects of America’s broken immigration system. Each year, almost 400,000 immigrants are locked up at U.S. detention facilities, at an annual cost of more than $2 billion to the American taxpayer.  Disturbingly, a series of abuses, including beatings, sexual assaults, and management cover-ups, has been reported at these facilities. In their letter to Secretary Johnson, the Members decried the fact that immigrants may currently be held indefinitely in our nation’s detention centers without any opportunity to appear before a judge.  To correct this troubling lack of due process, they urged Secretary Johnson to provide all immigrants in prolonged detention with a bond hearing within six months of their detention. They also encouraged the Secretary to take steps to allow for greater use of proven Alternatives to Detention (ATD).  These measures, including ankle bracelets and telephonic monitoring, offer a more humane, cost-effective option to keep track of vulnerable immigrants.  Finally, in an effort to prevent future abuses, the Members called on the Department of Homeland Security to fully implement its most recent detention standards—the 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS)—at all facilities where immigrants are held. The full text of the Members’ letter is below.

It’s time to bring our unjust and inhumane approach to immigration enforcement back into line with our American values,” said Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard. “This includes ensuring that everyone in our government’s custody has access to basic due process.  Indefinite detention is contrary to our nation’s bedrock legal principles, and it should no longer be a feature of our immigration system.  I urge President Obama and Secretary Johnson to make immigration detention reform a priority as they consider badly needed changes to the ways we enforce our immigration laws.

Our broken detention system is coming at a high cost both to taxpayers and families who are needlessly being ripped apart,” said Congressman Bill Foster. “Every year, we spend over $2 billion detaining immigrants when we could be making better use of alternatives to detention that cost anywhere from 70 cents to $17 a day. I am pleased that President Obama will be taking executive action on immigration, and I strongly encourage him to reform our broken detention system.

After visiting the Northwest Detention Center in my district to speak with detainees on hunger strike, it became clear to me that standards surrounding our detention practices need to be fixed,” said Congressman Adam Smith.  “Many detainees are fathers or mothers that have committed no crime, yet are being held in unacceptable conditions for a prolonged period of time.  With House Republican’s refusing to bring up comprehensive immigration reform, we need to act now.  I urge President Obama and Secretary Jeh Johnson to encourage Alternatives to Detention and reform our detention system.

——————————- July 1, 2014 The Honorable Jeh Johnson Secretary Department of Homeland Security 3801 Nebraska Ave, NW Washington, DC 20528 Dear Secretary Johnson: We are pleased that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is conducting a review of its deportation practices and write to encourage you to consider badly-needed reforms to DHS’s detention policies as part of that process. We remain deeply concerned by the dramatic increase in immigration detention in recent years. As you know, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 – the most recent year for which statistics are publically available – Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained a record 478,000 individuals [PDF], a nearly 500 percent increase over the last decade.  All told this year, American taxpayers will spend over $2 billion to maintain 34,000 detention beds – a congressionally imposed, arbitrary number that does not reflect the actual needs of your agency. We are heartened by your recent testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security clarifying that the Department will continue to reasonably interpret this quota as a requirement to maintain those detention beds, but not to keep them full unless necessary. While we continue to press for legislative reforms in Congress, we urge you to make the following administrative changes to your Department’s immigration detention policies

  1. Adopt a national standard providing all immigrants in prolonged detention with a bond hearing after no more than six months, consistent with recent circuit and district court decisions.

ICE continues to detain individuals for months or even years while their cases are pending. Many either receive no review of their prolonged detention, or only paper reviews by DHS that serve  to “rubber stamp” their continued incarceration. We strongly encourage you to adopt a national standard providing all immigrants in prolonged detention with a bond hearing before an immigration judge after no more than six months, where the government bears the burden of justifying their continued incarceration.  This is in line with Supreme Court precedent holding that prolonged detention without review by a judge raises serious constitutional concerns.  Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit adopted this six-month rule and it should now be expanded nationwide.

  1. Revise the Department’s interpretation of mandatory custody.

The DHS interpretation of mandatory custody under 8 U.S.C. § 1226(c) should include supervision of individuals on alternative forms of custody that are short of physical, jail-like detention. The statute does not place any textual limitation on the meaning of “custody” and the term is not defined  in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) or other immigration regulations. In addition, the Supreme Court has ruled that determining whether someone is in “custody” should be based upon the identity of the custodian and not the form of custody employed. Such an interpretation would allow for expanded use of proven alternatives to detention (ATD), which represent a highly effective means of meeting the goals of civil immigration detention. ATD also cost between 17 cents and $17 dollars per day making them much more cost effective than physical detention, which costs around $159 dollars a day. Moreover, they constitute a more humane option for vulnerable individuals, such as mentally ill, elderly, and pregnant immigrants.

  1. Bring all facilities into line with the 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS) and additional directives, and take steps to close down facilities with a history of abuse.

ICE’s facilities, which include private prisons, state and local jails, as well as ICE-owned facilities, operate under widely varying detention standards, including prior versions of the PBNDS dating from 2000 and 2008. ICE reports that approximately 40 percent of the agency’s average population is not covered by the most recent 2011 PBNDS. All ICE facilities should operate under the 2011 PBNDS, the Prison Rape Elimination Act regulations, and the 2013 Segregation Directive. DHS should also rigorously evaluate facilities, make all reports and audits of detention facilities public in a timely manner, and end contracts with any facilities where the two most recent overall performance evaluations received by the facility were less than “adequate,” as required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. These common-sense reforms will help ensure that our nation conducts immigration enforcement in a more fair, cost-effective and humane way and we urge you to swiftly adopt them. We look forward to continuing to work with you on immigration policy and other critical issues facing our nation. Sincerely,

  • Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard
  • Congressman Theodore E. Deutch
  • Congressman Bill Foster
  • Congressman Adam Smith
  • Congressman Beto O’Rourke
  • Congressman Raul M. Grijalva
  • Congressman Sam Farr
  • Congressman Albio Sires
  • Congresswoman Dina Titus
  • Congressman Marc A. Veasey
  • Congressman James P. McGovern
  • Congresswoman Janice D. Schakowsky
  • Congresswoman Suzan K. DelBene
  • Congresswoman Gwen Moore
  • Congressman Jared Polis
  • Congressman Rush Holt
  • Congresswoman Barbara Lee
  • Congressman Mike Quigley
  • Congressman Jim McDermott
  • Congressman Tony Cardenas
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