August 06, 2009

Menendez, Gillibrand React to Administration’s Detention System Announcement

Washington, D.C. - Today, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would increase staffing related to oversight of the immigrant detention system. DHS is adding new national and regional officials who will help monitor the detention centers and report potential issues. This comes in response to a series of illegal detentions - and even deportations - of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, as well as the lack of basic medical care in detention facilities.

U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have introduced legislation meant to reform detention policies, protect citizens and permanent residents and ensure basic medical care for detainees (more info: http://menendez.senate.gov/newsroom/record.cfm?id=316567&). Today, they said that the announcement signals good first steps, but that fundamental changes to the detention system are still urgently needed.

"I certainly welcome these first steps toward more effective oversight of our detention system," said Menendez. "Still, a dramatic overhaul of detention policy is needed to ensure the elimination of the egregious abuses that we've seen. The quickest and surest way to stop the detention and deportation of U.S. citizens and to stop the inhumane treatment of our fellow human beings in detention is with new rules that ensure due process, and I hope to see those either from DHS or through legislation."

"I commend the Administration for taking initial steps to reform the immigration detention system, which has had a number of lapses in due process and humane treatment that have resulted in deaths due to untreated medical conditions," said Gillibrand.  "I have worked with Dr. Schriro, who has been tapped to lead the new Office of Detention Policy and Planning (ODPP).  She is enthusiastic and deeply engaged in improving due process and focusing on vulnerable cases, such as pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children. I am hopeful that the Department will implement all the necessary improvements, and I will continue to work in partnership with Secretary Napolitano and her team, as well as Senator Menendez, in providing oversight and appropriate legislation to ensure that the U.S. immigration detention system complies with the standards that we expect in America."

Menendez believes DHS should institute new policies to bring the detention system into the 21st century by:

  • implementing cost-saving community-based alternatives to detention programs that provide community supervision to ensure individuals show up to their immigration hearings
  • ensuring that U.S. citizens and other vulnerable populations such as the seriously ill and pregnant women who don't pose a danger to the community are quickly informed of their rights and considered for release by a judge
  • creating enforceable detention conditions regulations to ensure detainees are treated humanely and
  • cutting contracts with facilities that don't comply with minimum standards.