Here at LIRS, we’ve spent the past 10 days analyzing the immigration reform legislation that the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” released on April 17. This bill, known as S.744 or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, would overhaul our current immigration system. It includes numerous improvements to our immigration laws that would benefit migrants, refugees, their families and communities, and our nation. LIRS applauds these improvements, but also decries changes made by the legislation that would divide some immigrant families.
S.744 is far from becoming law. Proposed changes by senators on the Judiciary Committee will be voted on during a series of hearings in the month of May. Next, the amended bill will move to the floor of the Senate where it will be subjected to additional debate and voting. Finally, S.744 must either be adopted by the House of Representatives or be reconciled with any competing immigration reforms put forward by that chamber.
LIRS has carefully considered how S.744 would impact our five principles for reform. Details of our analysis are available now on our website, and we are releasing the analyses on our blog over the course of this week. Today, we take an in-depth look at detention and related issues.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform Through Senate Bill S.744
Positive Changes to Detention and Access to Justice
Our immigration law must be humanely and justly enforced. LIRS has long urged Congress to achieve this goal by reducing America’s use of immigration detention, which often involves arbitrary, prolonged loss of liberty and is a barrier to full, fair, and just court proceedings. We also advocate expanding community-based alternatives to detention programs that provide legal, housing, medical, mental health, and other services as needed.
LIRS therefore applauds the April 17, 2013 introduction of S.744 (The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act) in the Senate. The bipartisan bill contains the following positive changes for migrants held in immigration detention, the operations of detention facilities, and the use of alternatives to detention:
- The rights of individuals in detention would be protected by the creation of time limitations governing the filing of charging documents, decisions about whether or not detention is necessary, and bond hearings before an immigration judge. People in detention for over 90 days would benefit from periodic reviews of their case.
- Compliance with the most recent standards and policies set by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be routinely monitored and contractually required. Deficiencies would trigger financial penalties or discontinuation of the use of a facility by DHS. Evaluations and inspections of facilities would be made public. Oversight would be aided by a requirement that DHS seek non-governmental organizations’ input on specific detention facilities.
- Oversight, transparency and accountability would be improved by placing two agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, under the jurisdiction of the DHS Ombudsman’s office. The Ombudsman’s office has improved the efficiency and accountability of existing DHS functions already under its jurisdiction.
- Alternatives to detention programs, which the LIRS study Unlocking Liberty found to be efficient, humane, and cost-effective, would be available nationwide and to more people. Case management and individualized assessment of whether and how someone should be detained would be made part of alternatives to detention, and community-based organizations would be clearly authorized to provide these alternatives.
LIRS also commends S.744’s safeguards for migrants, refugees and children facing deportation:
- The staff and judges assigned to immigration courts would be expanded to address existing backlogs and insufficient courtroom resources. Judges and staff would receive improved training. All detained people would receive legal orientation that explains their legal rights and decreases length of detention by preparing detainees to represent themselves.
- Immigration judges would have to oversee a person’s consent to be deported from the United States to ensure that such consent was truly voluntary and informed.
- The Department of Justice would appoint and pay for lawyers on behalf of unaccompanied children, people with mental disabilities, and particularly vulnerable individuals in deportation hearings. Providing lawyers would improve fairness and efficiency.
Throughout the legislative process, lawmakers will be listening for voices from their constituents. It’s critical that they hear from you and everyone who stands for welcome for migrants and refugees. This is a moment of opportunity to encourage Congress to provide a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and their families, ensure humane and just enforcement of our immigration laws, uphold family unity for migrants and refugees, improve our refugee and asylum processes, and protect U.S. citizen and migrant workers. Visit our Action Center and tell your representatives in Congress that you support humane enforcement in immigration reform.
Thank you for continuing to Stand for Welcome for migrants and refugees!