House Bill to Allow DHS to Detain Immigrants Indefinitely

A bill has been filed in Congress by U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and co-sponsored by two Florida congressmen, Jeff Miller and Dennis Ross, that would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to detain immigrants indefinitely. In a press release, Rep. Smith said that the bill, H.R. 1932, titled “Keep Our Communities Safe Act” provides for a statutory basis for DHS to detain specified dangerous immigrants under order of removal who cannot be deported. In effect, Rep. Smith’s bill would create new categories of detainees without review and prolongs detention of people in already long removal proceedings.

During a National Immigration Forum, the legislative council for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that the bill aims to accomplish five things. Firstly, it intends to strip away key parts of two Supreme Court decisions mandating that immigrant detainees cannot be held more than six months even if a deportation order cannot be carried out. The bill also wishes to allow Homeland Security to detain immigrants for years without a bond hearing in front of an immigration judge, while also providing DHS with the ability to cast a wider net for its targets since it would also provide it with ample authority to detain people for petty offenses such as writing a bad check or even failing to pay a parking ticket. The bill would also strip judicial review of immigration detention cases, not allowing detainees to file habeas petitions in a U.S. District court where they are detained, and would also mandate that DHS detain people for crimes committed predating 1988.

The ACLU has put forth several legal arguments that deem this bill to be unconstitutional because it authorizes the indefinite detention of a variety of immigrants without providing them with procedural protections. They also claim the bill would be incredibly wasteful because it would use $45 million a year in tax dollars for more detentions. Furthermore, the bill is also considered wholly unnecessary because, as data indicates, we are at point in time at which we have historically low crime rates, along with the fact that existing federal and state law already allows for the civil detention of mentally ill immigrants that could be considered dangerous while also already permitting authorities to quarantine immigrants and providing for the detention of immigrants who pose a threat to the United States. So for those who claim this bill is beneficial on the grounds that it allows for the detention of immigrants with criminal histories, it is obvious that their logic is faulty since the law permitting that already exists without need of a duplicate. In fact, if this bill were to pass, those who would be targeted most would be the very people who come to this country to escape persecution through asylum. According to the advocacy council to the Refugee Protection program with Humans Rights First, which represents asylum seekers who look for protection from persecution in the U.S., it is believed that due to the inadequate procedural protections that currently exist in the immigration detention system, many asylum seekers have been held in immigration detention centers for months or even years, sometimes even after the government found they posed no flight risk or danger to others. As if the subversion of constitutional rights were not enough, a 2009 Human Rights First study showed that between 2003 and 2009, the Department of Homeland Security held 48,000 asylum seekers in detention centers at a cost of $300 million. Yet this figure would be minimal compared to that it would cost to detain immigrants indefinitely. Because evidence indicates that these recurred measures produce little benefits, if any, at a tremendously high cost, it is considered to be an entirely unnecessary and wasteful use of precious resources. Needless to say, allowing for the indefinite detention of immigrants would be unduly hard on innocent, hard-working immigrants and their families.

Human Rights First holds that the U.S. needs to stop trying to worsen the immigration system by creating needless laws, instead working at trying to fix it as the immigration detention system is in desperate need of improvement to make it more cost-effective and consistent with human rights, while strengthening protections under current law to defend due process and individual rights. In spite of what Congress may be trying to do, there are those who argue that their motive is ill advised and illegal. Denise Gilman, the co-director of the Immigration Clinic of the University of Texas Law School, says the bill is unconstitutional because it extends and expands indefinite and mandatory detention without review, while attempting to strip the courts of the ability to individually review a case. As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court has already ruled that indefinite detention is unconstitutional. Because this choice for a measure to pursue could arguably be the worst one yet, especially since the law is clear in its prohibition, we wonder if there is a special interest that pushed Congress members to take it up in the first place. When Mrs. Gilman was asked if H.R. 1932 benefits the private prison industry, she explained that, intentionally or not, any legislation that extends detention would benefit the private prison industry. “Whenever there is an increased length of detention, there is an increased need for beds.” Mr. Gilman said,” and that promotes the intervention of the private prison industry.” This is very interesting considering that Broward County’s Southwest Ranches and Miami-Dade County’s Florida City are both currently partnered with leading private prison industry corporations and competing to build an ICE immigrant detention center.

In conclusion, as it seems this bill would not be applied equally, it would subvert procedural processes, create a separate category of detainees, would cost far more than it would yield in benefits, and because it is patently discriminatory-it is our greatest hope the bill gets shut down before going any further.

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