Congressman Adam Smith

Representing the 9th District of Washington

Congressman Smith Reintroduces Legislation To Address Broken Immigration Detention Policy

May 14, 2015
Press Release

Washington, D.C.-  Today, Congressman Adam Smith reintroduced the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act, legislation that would create enforceable standards and improve conditions at immigration detention centers while encouraging alternatives to detention and the repeal of the detention bed mandate.  The Northwest Detention Center, a detention facility in Congressman Smith’s district, experienced a large hunger strike among its detainees in March 2014 to protest conditions and treatment within the facility.  Over a year later, detainees at the facility report that they continue to experience unfair, unjust, and inhumane treatment.

“Our immigration detention system is expensive, inhumane, and badly broken,” said Congressman Adam Smith.  “Our government spends millions of dollars detaining fathers, mothers, and children who have committed no crime in unacceptable conditions as they await immigration proceedings.  This legislation would improve conditions by creating enforceable standards that are established and negotiated by a group of community stakeholders.”

The stakeholders would not only include the Department of Homeland Security, but also representatives of State and local governments, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, nongovernmental organizations (NGO) with expertise working on behalf of aliens in detention facilities, NGOs with expertise advocating for asylum seeker, and more.  The standards would address issues around solitary confinement, investigating grievances, treatment of detainees, access to legal representation, and ensuring quality food.  

“We applaud Representative Adam Smith for his leadership,” said Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica.  “Federal agencies continue to provide inadequate attention to the fundamental right to fair and humane treatment including limits on the use of solitary confinement, increased access to telephones, attorneys and translation services, and protection of detainees against retaliation for filing a complaint or grievance.  Many immigrants have waited months (and sometimes years) in detention centers while awaiting legal proceedings.” 

In addition to improving standards and conditions, the legislation also takes steps to expand alternatives to detention.  Alternatives offer a more fair, cost-effective and humane approach while still ensuring that more than 90 percent of individuals appear at immigration proceedings.  

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) released a statement saying, “This Act would both expand the use of community-based alternatives to detention and create increased protections for migrants in detention.  These alternatives result in high rates of compliance and appearance, improved integration outcomes, and improved health and welfare- all at a reduced cost to the government.  Overall, the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act offers a strong model for how the United States can uphold its humanitarian obligations while ensuring compliance with immigration law.”

This legislation also recognizes that an expansion in alternatives must come with the repeal of the detention bed quota.  

The Detention Watch Network expressed support saying  they “welcome Representative Smith's leadership in addressing many of the injustices endemic to the US immigration detention system. From addressing the egregious immigration detention bed quota, to curbing some of the worst aspects of misguided mandatory detention laws, to improving access to legal representation for people who are detained, this bill is a clear step in the right direction and a welcome departure from the current system which treats immigrant lives as numbers to meet a quota and dollars to make a profit.”

Maru Villalpando of Latino Advocacy added that "This bill is a model of true collaboration and partnership with those impacted by the detention and deportation machine that profits off their misery, and off the separation of families.  While we continue our efforts on ending deportations and detentions, we will continue supporting legislative efforts such as this.”

This legislation has been cosponsored by Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-2), Rep. Suzan DelBene (WA-1), Rep. Theodore Deuch (FL-1), Rep. Bill Foster (IL-11), Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-5), Rep. Beto O’Rourke (TX-16), and Rep. Jim McDermott (WA-7).  It’s also received support from many civil society organizations such as OneAmerica, LIRS, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Detention Watch Network, and Latino Advocacy.

For a section by section on the bill, click here.