Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Mocking Humane Immigration Detention Standards House Hearing Makes Light of Necessary Detention Reforms
Today, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on new immigration detention standards recently issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Cynically entitled “Holiday on ICE,” the hearing reflects Chairman Lamar Smith’s allegation that the new standards—which set minimum requirements for medical care, access to counsel, and other living conditions—are a “hospitality guideline” for detained immigrants.
Roughly 34,000 immigrants, including lawful permanent residents, and many immigrants who have never been convicted of a crime, are detained under civil immigration laws each day. It is anticipated that the hearing will be a vehicle for promoting mandatory detention proposals sponsored by Chairman Smith, who maintains that more detention, rather than less, should be the goal of our civil immigration system. Unfortunately, this critique ignores the often life-threatening problems that have plagued the U.S. detention system, which routinely places asylum-seekers, vulnerable women and children, and thousands of non-criminal immigrants into jails and prisons where they are locked up with dangerous criminals. Well-documented incidents of deaths in detention, sexual assault, and substandard conditions have led the Obama administration to prioritize detention reform. Among the steps taken to improve the current system has been a comprehensive update of current detention standards in consultation with the immigration community. Even these modest improvements are too much for immigration critics who seek to institutionalize two systems of justice that tolerate different standards of care depending on whether one is incarcerated by the criminal justice system or the civil immigration system.
While today’s House Judiciary hearing seeks to poke fun at the new standards, it is far more likely to highlight just how callous many of our lawmakers have become towards immigrants and immigration. The following is a statement from Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council:
“Most Americans are surprised to learn that every day our country detains thousands of men, women, and children for civil immigration violations, where they are often housed with dangerous criminals or forced to endure prison-like conditions despite the fact that they pose no risk to society. Obviously our laws must be enforced, but the vast majority of those who face deportation are otherwise law-abiding, decent people who came here to find a better life for themselves or their families. Their punishment for violating our immigration laws is deportation and there is no rationale or justification for forcing them to also endure grueling and often inhumane conditions while they await deportation.”
For background on the immigration detention system and efforts to further expand its reach, see: Locked Up Without End: Indefinite Detention of Immigrants Will Not Make America Safer by Michael Tan, IPC Special Report, October 6, 2011.