October 7, 2009 STATEMENT – LIRS Encouraged by DHS Planned Detention Reforms

Press Contact: Stacy Martin, Vice President for Mission Advancement
410-230-2847, lirspress@lirs.org


Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service Is Encouraged by DHS Planned Detention Reforms Still Needed: Protection of Vulnerable Persons, Clear Release Standards, Community-Based Alternatives to Detention Programs

BALTIMORE, October 7, 2009—Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) commends the immigration detention system reforms announced yesterday by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The government’s long-awaited report acknowledges that jail-like criminal incarceration has been used too frequently on non-violent persons and vulnerable populations who pose no threat to the community and could be released from custody. The report also cites the need to improve conditions in immigration detention facilities, especially in regard to medical care, and acknowledges the need for increased oversight of the detention system.

The DHS report noted that only a small percentage of those in detention have convictions for violent crimes and the majority are low risk, such as families, women, asylum seekers, or other vulnerable groups. “Imprisoning families and those fleeing persecution is fundamentally anti-American and goes against our core values of liberty and justice. DHS has recognized that its one-size-fits-all detention approach is not only costly and inefficient but unnecessary in tens of thousands of cases,” stated LIRS Executive Vice President Anne P. Wilson.

DHS has for the first time prioritized the development of a risk assessment instrument to identify whom it needs to detain and why. “The tool will help ICE make smarter and individualized decisions about whom to release at the front end. DHS will need to establish clear standards and screening protocols to ensure that detention is limited to circumstances when someone presents a danger to our communities or might fail to appear at court,” said Leslie E. Vélez, LIRS Director for Access to Justice. “Absent from DHS’s report is an explanation of how it will ensure release for all individuals who are eligible, particularly victims of torture and persecution, those with medical conditions, families, the elderly, and other vulnerable groups.”

“LIRS is encouraged that DHS plans to make alternatives to detention available nationwide. Such alternatives, however, would be much more effective if DHS uses proven community-based models which it has not yet done,” said Gregory Chen, LIRS Director for Legislative Affairs, referring to screening and supervised programs that rely upon community agencies as partners to ensure immigrants appear in court. “Moreover, alternatives to detention should not be used in place of other release options such as release on bond or recognizance.”

This announcement is an acknowledgement that the problems are systemic. Successful reform will require sustained attention not only by DHS but Congress. LIRS urges Congress to enact the detention reform bills introduced this year by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA),” said Mr. Chen. “Expecting a law enforcement agency to check its own power is not realistic and we need these laws to establish the appropriate release standards, ensure judicial review over detention decisions, and make detention standards enforceable.”

The ICE Immigration Detention Overview and Recommendations Report by Dr. Dora Schriro can be found at: www.ice.gov/doclib/091005_ice_detention_report-final.pdf

The ICE fact sheet on the detention reforms can be found at: www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/2009_immigration_detention_reforms.htm

If you have questions about this statement, direct them to Eric Sigmon, Director for Advocacy, 202/626-7943, esigmon@lirs.org.

Since 1939, LIRS has created welcoming communities for America’s newcomers. It is one of the nation’s leading agencies serving refugees and immigrants. The organization resettles refugees, protects migrant children, advocates for just treatment of asylum seekers, seeks alternatives to immigration detention and stands for unity for families fractured by unfair laws. To learn more about LIRS’s work of welcome, please visit lirs.org.