Our current immigrations laws are full of harsh provisions which grant no leeway for mercy, and INA Sec. 236(c) (8 U.S.C. Sec. 1226(C)) may be the harshest of all. This provision requires that any alien whom the Department of Homeland Security is trying to deport must be imprisoned for the entire length of the proceedings with no bond, if the alien has a previous conviction for any listed crimes, including simple possession of marijuana or drugs. As I have written previously, the Immigration Reform Bill currently under consideration in the Senate would bring some sanity to this detention provision by allowing alternatives to imprisonment such as probation-like monitoring and by giving immigration judges the discretion to issue bond to aliens who do not pose a threat to public safety.
However, in the other wing of the Capitol, the House Appropriations Committee is trying to increase imprisonments. Buried within budget for the Department of Homeland Security is a provision which increases the detention budget to $2 BILLION. This increase comes with the requirement that the Department must fill 34,000 detention beds nightly. What other law enforcement agency is under a mandate to fill up prisons?
No person should be kept in prison to meet an arbitrary quota. Incarceration takes an incredible toll on families and society. It should be used a a last resort, only when it is needed to protect the public or ensure that justice is served.
This quota does not serve the interest of justice. Rather, it is an incentive for abuse of process. If DHS must meet a detention quota, how quickly will they act to release a person wrongly arrested or detained? How promptly will they act to process the paperwork needed to release a person who has been granted asylum? How cooperative will they be in approving the itinerary of a person who is trying to voluntarily depart to her home country? Will the DHS attorney's stance on granting bond to an alien be based on the facts of the case, or on the need for more bodies in beds?
An amendment offered by Ted Deutch (D-FL) to do away with the minimum-bed mandate was not agreed to by the House on June 5th, 2013.