By Suzanne Gamboa and Gwen Aviles
Democrats poised to hold committee positions in Congress that will give them jurisdiction over agencies in charge of keeping immigrants in custody, especially children, said Thursday they plan to step up scrutiny of immigration detention next year.
Democrats won control of the House in November’s elections, which means the party’s House members shift into chairmanships of committees and subcommittees in the next Congress that starts in January.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat who is likely to chair the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on Homeland Security. Roybal-Allard is now the subcommittee’s ranking member, the spot reserved for the most senior member of the minority party.
On her list of things to get done are providing better access to legal counsel, using alternatives to detention particularly for families, ensuring that immigration facilities are more regularly inspected and more funding for the hiring of social workers to work with unaccompanied child migrants, she said.
“Mainly it’s going to be oversight, pushing for fairness and justice for these immigrants,” Roybal-Allard said.
Although illegal immigration has dropped significantly in recent years, the Trump administration has stepped up immigration detention, including holding parents and children from Central America who have been more likely to cross the border and surrender to law enforcement authorities and request asylum.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut is likely to become the chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. She is the ranking Democrat on that subcommittee right now. She pledged to “get accountability for the taxpayers’ dollars” being spent to hold immigrant children in tents in Tornillo, Texas.
She criticized a White House request for another $190 million for the unaccompanied children program to be added to the spending bill that Congress is negotiating, which she said would prolong the detention of immigrant children that is already averaging about 70 days.
“I will do everything I can to prevent them from getting one more nickel,” DeLauro said.
Congress is trying to finish up the spending package this year and there is debate over how much will be spent on immigration enforcement, including immigration detention and the border President Donald Trump’s had promised to build at Mexico’s expense.
Immigration groups and other advocates are pressuring Democrats to prevent increases in spending on immigration enforcement and any additional spending on the wall.
The American Immigration Council, a legal group that advocates for immigrants, released a study this week that reported nearly two-thirds of people held in immigration detention in recent years were locked away in privately-operated jails in remote areas far from their communities and legal support.
The analysis was based on records for the 355,729 people held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in 2015. According to the council’s report, the federal government also regularly moved people from between its 638 facilities in its network.
The report titled “The Landscape of Immigration Detention in the United States.” was released on Wednesday, intended to have some impact on the negotiations on Capitol Hill.
“As Congress weighs the administration’s repeated requests for a massive immigration enforcement budget, these findings should be central to policy discussions about detention funding, oversight, and reform,” said Kathryn Shepherd, American Immigration Council national advocacy counsel.
According to the American Immigration Council’s analysis, 67 percent of the 355,729 detained in 2015 were held in privately-owned facilities and 64 percent were in remote facilities. The average detention length among the more than 260,000 adults released from immigration detention centers in 2015 was 38 days.
The study shows that the majority of adults who were detained were transferred at least once during their detention, which led to confinement in multiple locations.
The report’s researchers found that 48 percent of detainees were confined at least once in a facility that was located more than 60 miles away from the nearest nonprofit immigration defense attorney that specialized in defending immigrants threatened with removal.
In addition, 26 percent was held at a facility 90 miles away and 22 percent was 120 miles from that legal help, according to the report by Dr. Emily Ryo, an associate professor at University of Southern California Gould School of Law and Ian Peacock, a University of California, Los Angeles sociology graduate student.
“Providing access to legal counsel is going to be one of my priorities,” Roybal-Allard said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure easy access is available and they will be able to get legal counsel.” Immigrants held in detention do not have a right to an attorney under U.S. law.
The Migration Policy Institute, in a report released in May, reported that three-quarters of people in immigration detention in 2016 were held in facilities operated by private companies.
According to the institute, the Department of Homeland Security spent $126 per day, per each detained person in the fiscal year 2017 and costs soared to $2 billion annually. That has also led to increased profits for the private companies that run the facilities.
The American Immigration Council analysis showed that privately-owned facilities outside of major urban areas had higher numbers of grievances.
In 2015, nearly 50,000 detention-related grievances from detainees and the public were made through ICE’s Detention Reporting and Information Line (a phone complaint and question line), the report said. Access to legal counsel and basic immigration case information were the most common type of grievances.
“The use of immigration detention in the United States has increased significantly in recent decades, while allegations of civil and human rights violations in detention facilities have persisted,” said Ryo. The issues raised in the report “could be exacerbated if the government expands detention use further,” she said.
Author and Stanford history professor Ana Raquel Minian wrote recently in an opinion article published by the New York Times that immigration detention has a short-lived history in the country. The shift away to greater detention of immigrants after a falloff in the 1950s came with the arrival of Cubans and Haitians in the 1980s and later, influence from for-profit companies drive that helped build a massive detention infrastructure, Minian wrote.
Roybal-Allard, De Lauro and Rep.-elect Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said in the conference call Thursday they would also push increased training of detention guards and personnel.
“Most of these contract facilities are run by folks who are used to dealing with hardened criminals and have no sensitivity or understanding with regards to the fact that they are dealing with a different population,” Roybal-Allard said.
Escobar called for more accountability and transparency in the contracts that are awarded to private companies.
“What we’ve seen with these huge no-bid contracts is they are ongoing,” Escobar said. “They keep getting renewed and … the amount of money and taxpayer dollars going to this is probably significantly more than we even know.”
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U.S. appeals court won’t immediately allow Trump asylum ban
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By Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO — A divided U.S. appeals court late Friday refused to immediately allow the Trump administration to enforce a ban on asylum for any immigrants who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
The ban is inconsistent with an existing U.S. law and an attempted end-run around Congress, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 2-1 decision.
“Just as we may not, as we are often reminded, ‘legislate from the bench,’ neither may the Executive legislate from the Oval Office,” 9th Circuit Judge Jay Bybee, a nominee of Republican President George W. Bush, wrote for the majority.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, Steven Stafford, did not have comment. But he referred to an earlier statement that called the asylum system broken and said the department looked forward to “continuing to defend the Executive Branch’s legitimate and well-reasoned exercise of its authority to address the crisis at our southern border.”
At issue is President Donald Trump’s Nov. 9 proclamation that barred anyone who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border between official ports of entry from seeking asylum. Trump issued the proclamation in response to caravans of migrants approaching the border.
A lower court judge temporarily blocked the ban and later refused to immediately reinstate it. The administration appealed to the 9th Circuit for an immediate stay of Judge Jon Tigar’s Nov. 19 temporary restraining order.
In a dissenting opinion Friday, 9th Circuit Judge Edward Leavy said the administration “adopted legal methods to cope with the current problems rampant at the southern border.” Nothing in the law the majority cited prevented a rule categorically barring eligibility for asylum on the basis of how a person entered the country, Leavy, a nominee of Republican President Ronald Reagan, said.
In his Nov, 19 ruling, Tigar sided with legal groups who argued that federal law is clear that immigrants in the U.S. can request asylum regardless of whether they entered legally.
The president “may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” the judge said in his order.
The ruling led to an unusual public dispute between Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts after Trump dismissed Tigar — an appointee of Trump’s predecessor — as an “Obama judge.”
Roberts responded with a statement that the federal judiciary doesn’t have “Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.”
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