June 22, 2011
Immigration Bill Would Expand Costly Immigration Detention and Undermine U.S. Protection of Refugees
Washington, D.C. — Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX/21), will mark up the “Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2011” (H.R. 1932), a bill he introduced on May 23, 2011. Following the mark-up, the committee will vote on whether to send the bill to the full House. The bill has eighteen cosponsors. H.R. 1932 would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to broaden the scope of the Department of Homeland Security’s already vast power to detain asylum seekers and other immigrants in removal proceedings and limit the already inadequate safeguards to protect asylum seekers and other immigrants against arbitrary or prolonged detention. "This sweeping legislative proposal would further increase the costs of immigration detention and lead to the prolonged detention of victims of political, religious and other persecution,” said Annie Sovcik, Advocacy Counsel with Human Rights First. “While the bill couches itself as providing for the detention of dangerous immigrants and as a measure to ‘keep our communities safe,’ its adverse impact would be felt by a great many persons who do not warrant that description and whose detention is unconnected to community safety. In considering H.R. 1932, members of Congress should recognize the harmful effects that any such amendments to immigration law would have on asylum seekers and other vulnerable immigrants.” “Improving the immigration detention system to make it both more cost-effective and more consistent with human rights standards requires strengthening the protections available under current law, not curtailing them. Congress should reject this bill,” Sovcik concluded. The financial cost of immigration detention is enormous. In Fiscal Year 2010, the U.S. government spent $1.7 billion to detain immigrants for alleged violations of civil immigration law in approximately 250 jails and jail-like facilities throughout the country. Human Rights First found that between 2003 and 2009, the Department of Homeland Security detained thousands of asylum seekers in jails and jail-like facilities at an estimated cost of over $300 million. Asylum seekers are regularly held at the American taxpayers’ expense for months and sometimes years because the system lacks basic due process safeguards. Asylum seekers who have been forced to languish in jails and jail-like facilities before being granted asylum in the United States include:
- A Baptist Chin woman, who fled Burma for political and religious reasons, was detained by DHS for 24 months before being granted asylum, even though she had proof of her identity and family in the United States and the U.S. government agreed that she would be subjected to torture if returned to Burma. Her detention cost U.S. taxpayers more than $90,000; and
- A Tibetan man, who was tortured by Chinese authorities and detained for more than a year after posting pro-Tibetan independence posters, was held for 11 months at a New Jersey facility—at a cost of over $53,000—before being granted asylum.
Human Rights First, U.S. Detention of Asylum Seekers: Seeking Protection, Finding Prison, April 2009, available at http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/090429-RP-hrf-asylum-detention-report.pdf.