December 13, 2011 STATEMENT — LIRS Statement for Hearing: “H.R. 1823, the Criminal Code Modernization and Simplification Act of 2011”

Press Contact: Fabio Lomelino, Assistant Director for Media Relations
410-230-2721, lirspress@lirs.org

BALTIMORE, December 13, 2011–Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, is troubled by the rapid growth in the number of migrants jailed every year. In 1994 the federal government detained 81,000 migrants. In fiscal year 2011 the figure skyrocketed to over 363,000. Even as Congress is looking to slash federal spending, earlier this year the House of Representatives passed legislation that would put U.S. taxpayers on the hook for $2.02 billion in immigration detention spending, a $150 million increase above current levels.

Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI-5) has introduced the Criminal Code Modernization and Simplification Act of 2011 (H.R. 1823), legislation that builds on this disturbing trend. H.R. 1823 is a costly and punitive proposal that would mandate federal prison time for a number of civil immigration violations and eliminate the option to impose less harsh penalties. The bill requires the incarceration of migrants who enter the United States illegally before they could be deported. Migrants charged with document fraud offenses would be locked up for up to 15 years. Both of these provisions represent disproportionate responses to civil immigration violations. Recognizing the significant cost of detention and the need to cut federal spending, it does not make sense for the U.S. Congress to adopt new laws that would place a greater fiscal burden on taxpayers.

In 1996 Congress passed mandatory detention laws that have resulted in the incarceration of thousands of noncitizens, including asylum seekers, refugees, torture survivors, and other vulnerable migrants who do not need to be held in custody. These laws took away U.S. immigration officials’ ability to make informed decisions about an individual’s case and have led to the significant growth of the immigration detention system.

In October 2011 LIRS released Unlocking Liberty: A Way Forward for U.S. Immigration Policy, a report that advocates for the repeal of mandatory detention laws and for the adoption of a risk assessment tool that allows U.S. immigration officers to make decisions based on the unique circumstances of each case. Immigrants convicted of serious crimes would still be detained, but migrants who do not pose a flight or public safety risk could be placed into community support programs or required to wear electronic tracking devices – options that are smarter, cheaper, and more humane.

“Rather than further tying judges’ hands and creating more laws that are punitive, rigid, and costly, the U.S. government should be developing cost-effective and humane policies that ensure detention is used only when necessary,” said Megan Bremer, LIRS Staff Attorney for Access to Justice.

LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.

If you have any questions about this statement, please feel free to contact Eric B. Sigmon, Director for Advocacy, at (202) 626-7943 or via email at esigmon@lirs.org.

The October 2011 report Unlocking Liberty: A Way Forward for U.S. Immigration Policy and accompanying materials may be read here.

The May 24, 2011 statement on H.R. 1932, the Keep Our Communities Safe Act, may be read here.

The May 18, 2011 statement on improving efficiency in the immigration court system may be read here.

The May 3, 2011 statement on concerns about state and local law enforcement participation in interpreting and enforcing federal immigration laws may be read here.