Comprehensive Immigration Reform Through Senate Bill S. 744

Senate Judiciary Committee Amendments Affecting Detention and Due Process

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Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) seeks to ensure our nation’s immigration laws are humanely and justly enforced, reform harmful detention practices, and provide all migrants and refugees with access to due process. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) would improve migrants’ access to justice, due process and freedom of movement. However, some amendments could jeopardize the positive measures included in the bill.

On May 9, the Senate Judiciary Committee began considering amendments to S. 744 and will continue this “mark-up” process through May 24. This time is a critical opportunity to strengthen the bill’s positive measures while mitigating harmful provisions.

LIRS applauds the following positive amendments that pertain to the apprehension and detention of migrants and refugees and removal proceedings for those facing deportation:

  • Coons 6: Improves accountability and transparency among federal agencies responsible for immigration enforcement by requiring interoperable databases among the immigration agencies within the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice. Requires detailed reporting by these agencies to Congress on detainees and removal proceedings.
  • Blumenthal 2: Defines and limits the use of “solitary confinement” for immigrant detainees, prohibiting its use for children and individuals with serious mental illness.
  • Franken 7: Protects children affected by immigration enforcement as well as the parental rights of migrants in detention. Also known as the “HELP for Separated Children Act,” this amendment allows parents to make phone calls from detention facilities, participate in family court and child welfare proceedings, and requires immigration officers to consider the best interest of children when making decisions about a parent’s detention or deportation.

 LIRS opposes the following amendments that reduce access to due process and broaden the use of inhumane enforcement policies:

  • Grassley 40: Weakens S. 744’s provision of government-funded and -appointed counsel for unaccompanied children and individuals with serious mental disabilities.
  • Grassley 41: Strikes programs in S. 744 that inform detained migrants of their legal rights and screen for vulnerable individuals who need counsel appointed on their behalf.
  • Grassley 47: Undoes provisions in S.744 that enhance access to due process. Eliminates bond hearings required for all detained migrants as well as a requirement that immigration judges oversee a person’s consent to be deported from the United States.
  • Grassley 51: Eliminates expanded use of alternatives to detention required by S. 744.
  • Grassley 53: Limits use of alternatives to detention while providing for indefinite detention for people who cannot be deported. Such an expansion of immigration detention has high financial costs as well as human costs of arbitrarily depriving many more people of liberty.
  • Sessions 12: Raises immigration bond minimums to $5,000 for migrants from countries other than Mexico and Canada. This would result in a greater number of migrants detained, including asylum seekers, who under current law may be released on a bond of $1,500.