WASHINGTON – Democratic lawmakers presented Thursday bills to prevent the arrest of American citizens and documented immigrants and to end to their mistreatment while in the custody of immigration authorities.
“There are dozens of complaints by people trapped in the detention process that immigration authorities never had any reason to detain,” New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez said during a telephonic press conference.
“Immigration agents make mistakes that cause enormous problems and difficulties to the people detained,” he said. “The Department of Homeland Security should take steps so that no United States citizens or documented immigrants can be detained who are living in the country legally.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said that “tonight some 30,000 people will sleep in immigrant detention centers,” which include county jails, private prisons and camps of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Among them may also be documented immigrants and even U.S. citizens,” she said. “Tomorrow many of them will ask for legal counsel and will find that none is available; others will ask for medical assistance and will find it is not available.”
“We can no longer tolerate a detention system that violates our principles, and that does not give immigrants the respect and decent treatment they deserve,” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat, said.
Menendez was referring to a report released last week by the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University in New York, according to which immigration agents have committed numerous violations of constitutional guarantees in their raids and searches.
Among the abuses are unwarranted nighttime raids and the capture of people without legal authority, as well as a disproportionate focus on Hispanic communities.
Menendez said that the number of people detained during immigration authorities’ raids and investigations has increased unremittingly in recent years and has now reached some 400,000 people a year.
“Nonetheless, there are no laws that determine how the federal government should treat these detainees,” he said. “There are policies, there are rules of the Department of Homeland Security, but there are no laws that establish penalties for violations.”
The legislation proposed by Menendez “will establish a basic due process so that people residing legally in the United States won’t keep being detained,” he said.
“People seized in raids should be investigated, some judgment should be used,” Menendez said. “And there should be a solid law with solid stipulations that put an end to the unnecessary deaths and suffering, a law that provides medical assistance for detainees.”
“That means that we acknowledge and respect the value of people as decent human beings,” he said. “People shouldn’t be locked up without a hearing.”
The New Jersey senator said that there are 60 people being held by immigration authorities who are on a hunger strike in Louisiana demanding access to legal counsel and medical assistance, and added that “it’s the sixth hunger strike in the south in just a few months.”
Sarnata Reynolds, director of the Amnesty International USA campaign on behalf of refugees and migrants said that “from talks with dozens of immigrants all over the country a pattern is emerging of an absolute indifference to humanity.”
The bills presented by Menendez and Roybal-Allard, Reynolds said, “protect the dignity of detainees, requiring that they be detained according to individual circumstances and not under generalized policies that tear families apart with no consideration for the consequences.” EFE