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Following Congress’s Vote to Fund Massive Increase in Deportation Apparatus, Letter Calls for Less Detention, More Accountability

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of Congress’s vote to approve a budget significantly expanding funding for the Trump administration’s federal deportation apparatus, 271 immigrant and civil rights organizations sent a letter today to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly opposing the proposed expansion of the immigration detention system and elimination of minimal detention conditions standards.

The letter calls on Secretary Kelly to bring sound and proven policy to his sprawling system of immigration jails, particularly in light of reports that DHS is seeking to lock up over 60,000 immigrants and may eliminate minimal standards governing detention conditions.

"This administration is using a system of mass detention, which already had an annual budget of more than $2 billion, to further its anti-immigrant policy of mass deportations,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center. “In the process, Secretary Kelly is sacrificing any semblance of care, accountability, or due process rights for immigrant communities, asylum seekers, and families. Our immigration detention system is a national shame."

“To expand immigration detention and simultaneously attempt to do away with even minimum standards of protection undermines fundamental due process protections and places thousands of lives at risk,” said Katharina Obser, senior program officer of the Women’s Refugee Commission’s Migrant Rights and Justice Program. “The administration should be looking at ways to reduce detention, including when necessary by using alternatives to detention, rather than expand such a costly and inhumane system.”

The letter cites 169 deaths in immigration custody since 2003, including several resulting from medical negligence. The inspections system is rife with loopholes that allow jails and prisons to continue making money off the detention of immigrants even following the exposure of abuse and harmful conditions. Before joining the Trump administration, Secretary Kelly was a member of a DHS advisory council which in December adopted a report finding that “documented occurrences of deficiencies and abuse” occur unchecked in the immigration detention system and calling for increased oversight and a reduction in DHS’s reliance on county jails and privately-run facilities.

In the letter, groups call on Secretary Kelly to:

  1. Halt the expansion of immigration detention capacity and examine ways to reduce current capacity in favor of effective and cost-saving alternatives to detention.
  2. Ensure accountability for the health, safety and due process rights of detained immigrants by ensuring robust oversight of the detention system and implementing the most recent set of Performance-Based National Detention Standards in all detention facilities.

The omnibus budget passed to keep the federal government open until the next appropriations deadline in September increases spending on DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) more than $600 million over its 2016 budget, to $6.8 billion. Even as it increased the agency’s budget, Congress acknowledged ICE’s haphazard management of the detention system. The budget bill requires ICE to “improve its contracting process for detention beds" and to provide quarterly updates on its oversight of adult and family detention facilities.

NIJC and WRC call on Congress to engage in robust oversight over the immigration detention system and to reduce, rather than expand, funding for immigration detention in the months and years to come.

With offices in Chicago, Indiana, and Washington, D.C., Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. Visit immigrantjustice.org and follow @NIJC.

The Women's Refugee Commission improves the lives and protects the rights of women, children and youth displaced by conflict and crisis. Women’s Refugee Commission researches their needs, identifies solutions and advocates for programs and policies to strengthen their resilience and drive change in humanitarian practice. Since its founding in 1989, it has been a leading expert on the needs of refugee women and children, and the policies that can protect and empower them.