Congressional Committee Advances Bill That Would Indefinitely Detain Migrants

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Today the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives approved the deceptively named legislation, the Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2011 (H.R. 1932), by a vote of 17-14. Introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX-21), the proposal would indefinitely detain thousands of immigrants, including asylum seekers and victims of torture, and divert precious government resources from the activities that actually keep our communities safe. Many migrants would find themselves indefinitely detained without a real opportunity to challenge their detention.

While bill supporters claim that the measure is intended to address problems with deporting non-citizens to countries that lack formal diplomatic relations with the United States or countries that are unwilling to accept some of their deportees, the bill fails to solve these issues. H.R. 1932 curtails the government’s ability to make individual assessments about whether migrants actually need to be detained while also limiting migrants’ ability to judicial review. Recognizing that 84% of detained migrants do not have legal counsel, this would be especially harmful.

Prolonged and indefinite detention would also result in significant costs to U.S. taxpayers and the federal government. During this fiscal year, U.S. taxpayers will spend nearly $2 billion on jailing migrants. If H.R. 1932 became law, it would require U.S. taxpayers to pay $45,000 per person annually to detain immigrants who pose neither a flight risk nor a danger to U.S. communities. To give you a sense of scope, last fiscal year, the federal government detained approximately 363,000 individuals. At a time when funds for the most basic community programs are scarce, this bill would commit precious taxpayer dollars to lock up many harmless migrants who do not need to be detained.

LIRS opposes H.R 1932 because it removes an individual’s right to due process and judicial review and because LIRS has witnessed the devastating impacts of prolonged and indefinite detention through our work with local partners who work with migrants in detention. “The U.S. government must uphold the human rights of all migrants, including survivors of torture, refugees, and asylum seekers, by ending arbitrary detention without any assessment of risk factors demonstrating why an individual’s detention is necessary,” said Leslie E. Vélez, LIRS Director for Access to Justice. “Indefinite detention forces people to choose between giving up their legal claim and face real threats to their safety in their home country of origin when they are deported or bear the unnecessary confinement while they continue to pursue their claim.”

Join LIRS in urging Congress to oppose H.R. 1932 by visiting the LIRS Action Center. It only takes a few clicks of the mouse!

And to learn more about Alternatives to Detention, visit www.lirs.org/dignity

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