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Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal

Representing the 7th District of Washington

Representatives Smith and Jayapal Introduce Legislation to Reform Deeply Flawed Immigration Detention System

October 3, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) introduced the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, legislation to reform the systemic problems in our immigration detention system. Our current system is inhumane, unjust, and driven by private, for-profit corporations like The GEO Group, which operates the Northwest Detention Center located in Tacoma, Washington. This bill will end the use of private facilities and repeal mandatory detention, while restoring due process, oversight, accountability, and transparency to the immigration detention system.

“We must fix the injustices in our broken immigration detention system,” said Congressman Adam Smith. “As the Trump administration continues to push a misguided and dangerous immigration agenda, we need to ensure fair treatment and due process for immigrants and refugees faced with detention. This legislation will address some of the worst failings of our immigration policy, and restore integrity and humanity to immigration proceedings.”

“The high moral cost of our inhumane immigration detention system is reprehensible. Large, private corporations operating detention centers are profiting off the suffering of men, women and children. We need an overhaul,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “It’s clear that the Trump administration is dismantling the few protections in place for detained immigrants even as he ramps up enforcement against parents and vulnerable populations. This bill addresses the most egregious problems with our immigration detention system. It’s Congress’ responsibility to step up and pass this bill.”

In addition to repealing mandatory detention, a policy that often results in arbitrary and indefinite detention, the legislation creates a meaningful inspection process at detention facilities to ensure they meet the government’s own standards. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish legally enforceable civil detention standards in line with those adopted by the American Bar Association. With disturbing track records of abuse and neglect,  DHS has a responsibility to ensure that facilities are held accountable for the humane treatment of those awaiting immigration proceedings.

Individuals held in our immigration detention system are subject to civil law, but are often held in conditions identical to prisons. In many cases, detained people are simply awaiting their day in court. To correct the persistent failures of due process, the legislation requires the government to show probable cause to detain people, and implements a special rule for primary caregivers and vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and people with serious medical and mental health issues.

"My time in detention in Artesia was a nightmare, a scene in which there is fear, anguish, and desperation in every breath. The immigration detention system harms the lives of thousands of people every day. The solution is not to just improve conditions in these detention centers, the real solution must be a fundamental change. Congress must urgently act to pass this bill and bring change to this tragic system of immigration detention," said Angelina Marquez, survivor of the U.S. detention system.

“Being detained was difficult in every way. You are a prisoner. I am speaking out because the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act gives me hope that the U.S. government can find a way to stop the inhumane treatment being given to so many immigrants. We want to live peacefully and safely, and our country’s leaders must remember that all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity,” said Daniel, survivor of the U.S. detention system.

“Our government locks away hundreds of thousands of people every year, hidden in remote jails with punishing conditions and no accountability. President Trump is asking Congress to give DHS even more money to super-fund this abusive network of jails. We applaud Representatives Smith and Jayapal for responding to this madness with a plan - a workable, compassionate and rights-respecting alternative to today's shameful reality,” said Mary Meg McCarthy of the National Immigration Justice Center.

“The Trump administration has made it clear that they will aggressively target immigrants for arrest and detention. This bill is an important step toward stemming the unchecked expansion of the immigration detention system, ensuring much-needed oversight and accountability over detention operations and providing greater protections for immigrants. We call on Congress to immediately pass this bill in order to end the over-reliance on an inhumane and ineffective system and treat immigrants in detention with fairness and dignity,” said Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Over the past decade, the immigration detention system has grown dramatically without sufficient safeguards against human and civil rights abuses. It is a system known for egregious violations including sexual assault, prolonged solitary confinement, and life-threatening medical neglect. Many of the people detained are fleeing persecution in their home countries, while others have lived in the U.S. for years. They are often detained in for-profit prisons and county jails isolated from family, community and legal support. Many are detained for months without access to an immigration judge and are denied basic rights.”

“Our immigration detention system is a driving force of the U.S. deportation agenda, ruthlessly separating families and communities. For the past three decades the government has put hundreds of thousands of immigrants behind bars at a massive human, financial and moral cost. Under this administration, an already oppressive, inhumane and deadly system of detention has become even bigger, less transparent and less accountable. It is exactly at this moment—as the administration pushes to massively expand the system and further undermine the rights of all immigrants—that Congress must take immediate and decisive action to intervene. While this bill does not fully end the inhumane and unnecessary system of immigration detention, it takes a bold step forward by ending mandatory detention, ending privatized detention, enacting critical safeguards and reversing the trend of constant, unchecked growth,” said Mary Small, Detention Watch Network. 

The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act is cosponsored by John Conyers Jr. (MI-13), Maxine Waters (CA-43), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-4), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Bobby Rush (IL-1), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Elijah E. Cummings (MD-7), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Danny K. Davis (IL-7), James P. McGovern (MA-2), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Gwen Moore (WI-4), Steve Cohen (TN-9), Keith Ellison (MN-5), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson (GA-4), Chellie Pingree (ME-1), Jared Polis (CO-2), Mike Quigley (IL-5), Judy Chu (CA-27), Bill Foster (IL-11), David N. Cicilline (RI-1), Suzan DelBene (WA-1), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Colleen Hanabusa (HI-1), Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8), Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-4), Marc Veasey (TX-33), Ruben Gallego (AZ-7), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Kathleen M. Rice (NY-4), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Jamie Raskin (MD-8), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34).

The legislation is also supported by the following civil society organizations: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Asian Americans Advancing Justice - AAJC, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition, Center for Community Change, The Center for Victims of Torture, Church Council of Greater Seattle, Church World Service, Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, Columbia Legal Services, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Democracy for America, Detention Watch Network, FIRM, Grassroots Leadership, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Immigration Equality Action Fund, Just Detention International, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Make the Road New York, Make the Road NJ, MoveOn.org Civic Action, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigration Law Center, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), National Network to End Domestic Violence, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, OneAmerica, Our Revolution, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), Southern Poverty Law Center, Tahirih Justice Center, United We Dream, Washington Defender Association, Women’s Refugee Commission, 21 Progress.