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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

SENATORS INTRODUCE BILL TO REFORM IMMIGRATION DETENTION STANDARDS

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Senators Menendez (D-NJ), Kennedy (D-MA) and Gillibrand (D-NY) have introduced a pair of bills designed to address major problems in the immigration detention system. The ACLU describes the twin pieces of legislation:

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today introduced two bills crucial to fixing major problems with U.S. immigration detention policy. The "Protect Citizens from Unlawful Detention Act," would protect U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents from being unlawfully detained and deported by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and require the Department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to follow due process standards in executing immigration enforcement actions. The "Strong STANDARDS Act," would aim to prevent deaths of immigration detainees by requiring DHS to issue detention regulations that are legally binding and enforceable.

"As a result of unchecked enforcement and insufficient due process protections, even U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are swept up and unlawfully held in woeful conditions in immigration detention," said Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "These bills are a necessary antidote to the government's unchecked and unconstitutional immigration enforcement powers."

There are no regulations governing DHS's massive detention system, which holds approximately 442,000 immigration detainees each year, most with no criminal record. Those held in immigration detention include asylum seekers, families with children, victims of human trafficking, domestic violence survivors and people with serious medical or mental health conditions. In some cases, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents have been mistakenly and unlawfully detained, mistreated by government agents and even illegally deported. There have been over 90 deaths in immigration detention since 2003.  

Last week, DHS denied a "petition for rulemaking" filed by immigrants' rights advocates demanding DHS issue regulations governing immigration detention standards.

"Despite at least 90 immigration detainee deaths, national news coverage uncovering deplorable detention conditions, and congressional hearings investigating shoddy medical care for detainees, the Obama administration has elected to adopt the same course pursued by the Bush administration by refusing to regulate our country's massive immigration detention system," said Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel."Since the administration has refused to enact enforceable regulations, it is up to Congress to act.""

On Tuesday, the ACLU of Southern California and the National Immigration Law Center released a comprehensive report about the state of deplorable conditions in immigration detention centers nationwide, concluding that the rights of detainees are routinely and systematically violated.

"These gross due process violations have occurred because there are no clear laws governing DHS's conduct," said Ahilan Arulanantham, Director of Immigrant Rights and National Security at the ACLU of Southern California. "Despite the rapid growth of the immigration detention system, it is woefully unregulated. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people locked up in immigration detention each year not only face tremendous obstacles to challenging wrongful detention or winning their immigration cases, but the conditions in which they are held often are as bad as or worse than those faced by imprisoned criminals."

The "Protect Citizens from Unlawful Detention Act," among other things, would establish screening mechanisms to ensure U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are swept up in immigration enforcement operations are afforded due process and require that all people arrested or detained by DHS are advised of their right to access immigration counsel and notified of the immigration charges against them.

The "Strong STANDARDS (Safe Treatment, Avoiding Needless Deaths, and Abuse Reduction in the Detention System) Act" would require DHS to provide access to adequate medical care for those detained, establish protocols when DHS transfers immigrants away from family and immigration counsel and ensure access to functioning telephones inside detention centers, as well as many other critical improvements to detention centers.

On a related note, a new study reports that ICE has not been meeting its own standards at detention centers around the country.

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