June 13, 2013 STATEMENT–LIRS Statement for Hearing: “The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act”

Press Contact: Jon Pattee, LIRS Assistant Director for Media
202-591-5778, jpattee@lirs.org

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, appreciates the committee’s dedication to considering legislation seeking to fix our broken immigration system but is concerned with the legislation before the committee today. H.R. 2278, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act, would expand the use of immigration detention, encourage state and local law enforcement officials’ participation in immigration enforcement, and decrease access to justice, protections, and immigration relief for certain migrants.

In fiscal year (FY) 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained an all-time high number of persons: 429,000. In FY 2012, 409,849 individuals were removed by ICE’s Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations. These numbers bear witness to a fact communities and families experience every day – enforcement of our immigration laws is happening at an unprecedented and incredible pace. Through LIRS’s work with asylum seekers, torture survivors and migrant families, we have witnessed firsthand the detrimental effects immigration enforcement measures, such as immigration detention, have on individuals, families, and communities.

ICE has recently developed and implemented nationwide use of a risk assessment tool to reach consistent and informed determinations of when detention is truly necessary and when low-risk migrants should be released or placed in a less-restrictive program. This tool is an important step towards humane and responsible enforcement of our immigration laws. The SAFE Act takes enforcement in the opposite direction, mandating even greater use of immigration detention and explicitly allowing indefinite detention of migrants — including asylum seekers and victims of torture. This is the wrong approach. In a country that honors due process, and during a time of reduced federal spending, our overreliance on detention as an immigration enforcement approach should be replaced with a broad continuum of alternatives to detention.

Similarly, the SAFE Act would allow state and local law enforcement officials to act as immigration agents. For example, the bill expands the 287(g) program, a flawed enforcement approach that weakens relationships between migrant communities and local law enforcement. In December 2012, ICE announced that 287(g) would only be continued in jurisdictions operating the program out of their jails, terminating those programs operating amidst communities, also known as the “task force” model). Unfortunately, the SAFE Act would reverse this decision, further eroding trust between migrants and local law enforcement and decreasing safety for entire communities.

Other provisions of the SAFE Act would limit immigration options for certain migrants, including formerly incarcerated individuals who have paid their debt to society and are rebuilding their lives. Provisions that expand mandatory detention and allow for indefinite detention do not serve justice, and run counter to the fundamental American value of liberty and justice for all.

The SAFE Act is not a solution to our broken immigration system. LIRS urges the House Judiciary Committee to prioritize comprehensive immigration reform that provides a roadmap to citizenship for the undocumented, ensures humane and just enforcement of our immigration laws, promotes family unity, welcomes individuals fleeing persecution, and protects US citizen and migrant workers over piecemeal legislation that exacerbates our current heavy-handed immigration enforcement approach.

If you have any questions about this statement, please contact Brittney Nystrom, Director for Advocacy, at (202) 626-7943 or via email at bnystrom@lirs.org.