Across the United States, tens of thousands of people, including U.S. citizens, immigrants and asylum seekers, languish needlessly in detention facilities every day without even the right to a hearing to determine whether their detention is necessary.
While detained, they are often held in poor conditions with limited access to family, medical care, or attorneys.
Urge your Senators to cosponsor the Protect US Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Detention Act and the Strong STANDARDS Act (Safe Treatment, Avoiding Needless Deaths, and Abuse Reduction in the Detention System), introduced by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
Senator Kennedy is also an original co-sponsor of the Protect Citizens from Unlawful Detention Act.
These bills would require immigration authorities to ensure that U.S. citizens and other vulnerable populations such as children are informed of their rights when arrested, are considered for release, and are treated humanely while detained.
Each day in the United States, more than 30,000 people are held in detention facilities across the country. It troubles me that among them are U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, asylum seekers and survivors of torture and human trafficking, many of whom pose neither a flight risk nor a danger to public safety, but are locked up without the right to a hearing to determine whether their detention is even warranted. From jail, they are forced to fight for legal recognition to live in the U.S., a process that can take months or even years. I am further distressed that detention is used as the go-to enforcement mechanism despite the fact that alternatives to detention programs have been shown to be effective and significantly less expensive than holding people in detention. While the average cost of detaining an immigrant is $95 per person/per day, alternatives to detention cost as little as $12 per person per day.
Additionally, people in immigration facilities can be held in extremely poor conditions. Although the Department of Homeland Security has enacted certain standards for the treatment of people subject to immigration detention, these standards are not legally enforceable -- meaning transgressions occur frequently and with impunity. Many detainees have been subject to the use of excessive restraints such as handcuffs, belly chains, and leg restraints and held alongside individuals who have been jailed for criminal offenses. Further, many detained immigrants receive inadequate access to medical care. At least 91 have died in the last five years, including a woman who died just days ago, on July 24, in South Carolina. Another, Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old Guinean tailor died of head injuries sustained after he collapsed in his cell. "The New York Times" reported after obtaining records from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Freedom of Information Act, that on February 1, 2007, Bah collapsed and struck his head on the floor. Bah asked unsuccessfully to see a doctor for two days before he was shackled and placed in solitary confinement due to "behavior problems." He fell into a coma and later died. Boubacar Bah's story is one I find extremely alarming. Accountability for transgressions of the Department of Homeland Security's own standards, as well as international standards, must be established in our nation's laws and detention centers.
Given the state of the broken immigration detention system, legislation is greatly needed. The Protect Citizens from Unlawful Detention Act and the Prevent Detainee Deaths and Abuse Act would establish screening mechanisms so that U.S. citizens and vulnerable populations, such as children and pregnant women, are considered for alternatives to detention, ensure access to adequate medical care, and establish processes that protect immigrants from being arbitrarily transferred thousands of miles away from family and counsel.
Furthermore, I urge you to ask the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to ensure a statutory presumption in law, policy, and practice against the administrative detention of immigrants and asylum seekers. The U.S. should not deprive anyone of his or her liberty unless it has first been demonstrated that the person poses a flight risk or a danger to public safety. Finally, I encourage you to visit your local detention center in order to see and hear first-hand the stories of many who are detained. Your help is crucial in supporting the human rights of U.S. citizens, immigrants and asylum seekers in detention.