National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Blog & Updates

Detention Reforms Proposed in Congress, Announced by DHS

August 07, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

On July 30, Senators Menendez (D-NJ), Gillibrand (D-NY), and Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Detention Act, S. 1549.  The bill would establish screening mechanisms so that U.S. citizens and vulnerable populations, such as children and pregnant women and others who are swept up in immigration enforcement operations, are considered for alternatives to detention. 


Also on July 30, Senators Menendez and Gillibrand introduced S. 1550, the Safe Treatment, Avoiding Needless Deaths, and Abuse Reduction in the Detention System Act (the “Strong STANDARDS” Act).  Among other things, this bill would require DHS to provide access to adequate medical care, establish protocols when ICE transfers immigrants away from family and counsel, ensure access to functioning telephones inside detention centers, and mandate other improvements to the immigration detention system.


You can read more about these bills in the Forum’s Press Release.


On August 6th, Senators Lieberman (I-CT), Kennedy (D-MA) and Akaka (D-HI) introduced the Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act.  The legislation would implement recommendations first made in 2005 in a Congressionally-mandated report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.  For more information, read this Press Release from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.


The detention bills came in the wake of a decision by DHS to deny a petition for rulemaking on detention standards.  In 2007, advocates petitioned DHS to conduct a formal rulemaking to develop standards for immigration detention.  Regulations would be more enforceable than the existing detention standards that advocates say are often ignored.  After more than two years, DHS decided that its “performance-based standards,” a set of guidelines that were first issued in 2000 and revised most recently in 2008, adequately addressed the concerns raised in the petition. 


For more information on this issue, go to the Web site of the National Immigration Project.


In the context of bad press, unflattering reports, and proposed legislation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on August 6th that it will be making reforms to its detention system.  The agency will be creating an Office of Detention Policy and Planning (ODPP), headed by Dora Schriro, the current Special Advisor to Secretary Napolitano on Detention and Removal Operations. With the assistance of detention and health care experts, the Office will “design and plan a civil detention system tailored to addresses ICE's needs.” The Office will evaluate the current detention system, focusing on population management, detention management, programs management, health care management, alternatives to detention management, special populations management, and accountability.


Other steps being taken include the discontinuation of family detention at the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Texas, the formation of two advisory groups of local and national organizations interested in ICE's detention system, the appointment of 23 ICE detention managers to work in 23 facilities that together house more than 40 percent of detainees, and the establishment of an Office of Detention Oversight. 


More information can be found in ICE’s Press Release.


ICE also put out a Fact Sheet, which can be obtained here.


The Forum’s press release on the DHS Action can be found here.



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