The National Immigrant Justice Center vehemently opposes new legislation introduced by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), S. 3478, which would require the automatic and indefinite jailing of all asylum-seeking families arriving at the U.S. southern border, permit family separation in a wide variety of cases, and reduce oversight of hiring of Customs and Border Protection agents in the face of mounting evidence of corruption and violent behavior within the agency.
“The United States already holds the shameful distinction of being ranked among the worst nations in treatment of migrant children, largely due to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) detention of children in immigration jails,” said NIJC Director of Policy Heidi Altman. “Senator Johnson’s legislation would embrace rather than mitigate these systemic abuses.”
The bill’s most harmful provisions would trigger:
- Mandatory jailing of all asylum-seeking families arriving at the border, with no exceptions for children or parents with vulnerabilities or illness. Imprisonment is a heartless welcome for asylum-seeking families by any measure, but this provision is all the more shocking when viewed in light of the recent death of Mariee Juarez, a toddler whose family alleges her tragic death is attributable to the negligent care she received in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody.
- Prolonged jailing of children and parents, by prohibiting DHS from releasing any families during the duration of their migration-related criminal or civil proceedings, without regard to individual circumstances. DHS’s own medical experts recently resorted to whistleblowing to warn of the “high risk of harm” DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “family residential centers” pose to children for even short periods of time; systemic prolonged detention will leave scars across generations.
- A brand new family separation crisis, by requiring the separation of families in a wide range of circumstances, including where a parent has a decades-old conviction for an offense as minor as marijuana possession. This provision reveals Senator Johnson’s blindness to the continued suffering endured by families still separated for similarly minor or baseless allegations, such as NIJC’s three-year old client Marta who DHS has kept from her father for nearly six months because of alcohol-related convictions from more than a dozen years ago.
- A further deterioration of conditions for families in immigration jails, by empowering ICE to inspect its own facilities. Allowing the jailer to inspects its own jails would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so high; just this summer DHS’s own Inspector General confirmed that ICE’s inspections regime is woefully inadequate to correct deficiencies.
- Weakened hiring standards for Customs and Border Protection agents, just as further evidence emerges of an agency culture so corrupted as to support rampant criminal conduct by border patrol agents, most recently including an alleged serial killer.
The Department of Homeland Security’s detention and enforcement operations are riddled with corruption and systemic abuses. Now is the time for Congress to hold those responsible for abuses to account, not give legislative license for the commission of greater harm.