Executive Action on Immigration Must Promote Humane Treatment in Detention Policy

Categories: Immigration, News

On June 30, President Obama charged Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder with moving resources to the border and identifying – before the end of the summer – additional actions that his administration can take to help reform the current, broken immigration system.

Administrative changes could have far-reaching implications for millions of immigrant families. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is calling on the president to include certain reforms in any action he takes, including more humane treatment in immigration detention centers. Sweeping mandatory detention laws, rigid numerical quotas, and the widespread use of private, for-profit corporate jails to house immigrants have turned the deportation system into a national disgrace.

To begin addressing the badly flawed system, the administration should require a bond hearing for anyone detained more than six months. It should also interpret “custody,” as it exists in the laws, to permit forms of custody short of detention, and it should shift resources from institutional detention to effective and far less expensive alternatives.

Earlier this year, Secretary Johnson caused some controversy on Capitol Hill when he argued that the “detention bed quota” in appropriations bills is not a mandate to indiscriminately fill those beds with immigrants, regardless of need. Johnson said detention centers must be capable of filling 34,000 beds at any given time, but that doesn’t mean they should all necessarily always have 34,000 detainees.

As NPR framed it in November, “imagine your city council telling the police department how many people it had to keep in jail each night.” Johnson clearly agrees, saying in a letter before his confirmation to Sen. Dick Durbin, D. Ill., that he doesn’t “believe deportation quotas or numerical goals are a good idea.” The administration should reaffirm Johnson’s reading of the law.

Obama’s announcement on June 30 came more than a year after the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill (S. 744), which House leadership has refused to bring up for a vote. More than a month earlier, The Leadership Conference sent a letter to Obama outlining steps he should take on his own regardless of the Senate bill’s fate in the House.

This is the third in a series of four articles detailing what The Leadership Conference wants to see in President Obama’s executive action on immigration, due out later this summer.