May 13, 2015 STATEMENT — LIRS Statement for the Record on the “Accountability in Immigration Detention Act of 2015”

Accountability in Immigration Detention Act of 2015

May 13, 2015

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, welcomes Representative Adam Smith’s (D-WA) reintroduction of the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act. This Act would both expand the use of community-based alternatives to detention and create increased protections for migrants in detention. Overall, the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act offers a strong model for how the United States can uphold its humanitarian obligations while ensuring compliance with immigration law.

The United States detains tens of thousands of migrants, including families with young children, asylum seekers, refugees, and torture survivors, every day in jails or jail-like settings. This includes over a thousand families- mothers with infants, toddlers, and teens- detained on a daily basis. LIRS’s steadfast position is that there is no humane way to detain families. LIRS has long urged the United States to avoid using immigration detention for any individual or family unless it is determined to be absolutely necessary based on individualized assessments.

LIRS strongly supports those sections of the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act that would:

  • Require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish community-based alternatives to detention that incorporate case management, particularly for vulnerable populations, including through agreements with community-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
  • Ensure detention facilities comply with enforceable standards (including compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act) and increase oversight of these facilities.
  • Ensure all detained migrants have access to the successful Legal Orientation Program.
  • Prevent the use of custodial alternatives to detention when release on recognizance or bond is determined to be sufficient.
  • Eliminate the congressional detention bed quota to allow DHS to determine its own detention needs.

As a leader in developing effective community-based alternatives to detention, LIRS enthusiastically welcomes efforts to expand the use of this type of alternative to detention. These alternatives have been proven to uphold the law while also promoting fairness, compassion and justice. Community-based alternatives to detention operated by nonprofit organizations that utilize case management have several benefits for both migrants and the community. These alternatives result in high rates of compliance and appearance, improved integration outcomes, and improved health and welfare- all at a reduced cost to the government. This vision of community-based alternatives to detention mirrors the model LIRS has embraced and is piloting with twenty service partners across the nation. Community-based alternatives are particularly appropriate for vulnerable migrants such as families, asylum seekers, torture survivors, the elderly, individuals with medical and mental health needs, and other vulnerable groups.

In addition to establishing community-based alternatives to detention, the bill also provides for the protection and access to justice for our migrant brothers and sisters held in immigration detention facilities. The Accountability in Immigration Act would ensure all detained migrants receive legal orientation through the Legal Orientation Program while also requiring meaningful oversight of detention facilities, including compliance mechanisms and financial penalties.

Finally, the bill would eliminate the detention bed quota. Under current law, DHS is required to maintain 34,000 detention beds for immigration purposes every day. Since its establishment in 2007, this requirement has led to increased arbitrary detention of migrants and those seeking protection in the U.S. every year. By eliminating this arbitrary detention requirement, DHS could determine its own detention needs. This would allow DHS to increase efficiency by detaining only those for whom it determines detention is necessary and shift its resources to community-based and other alternatives to detention. This would create savings to U.S. taxpayers and also greatly reduce the suffering and harm caused by unnecessary detention of members of our families, communities and congregations.

As a nation, we are defined by our compassion for the vulnerable and our commitment to justice for all. LIRS applauds the reintroduction of the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act that increases protections and due process for the men, women, and children detained now or in the future.

If you have any questions about this statement, please feel free to contact Brittney Nystrom, LIRS Director for Advocacy at (202) 626-7934 or via email at bnystrom@lirs.org.