Press Releases

Letter also raises ongoing investigation into 2018 death of Russian asylum seeker held at NWDC

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D, WA-09) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General calling for a review of the use of solitary confinement at the Northwest Detention Center.

"We write to express our deep concerns regarding the use of solitary confinement at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington,” Cantwell and Smith wrote to DHS Inspector General Dr. Joseph V. Cuffari. “According to news reports, several hundred individuals have been held in solitary confinement at the NWDC between 2013 and 2017.”

“We understand that your office conducted an inspection of the NWDC in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 and is currently conducting a review and preparing a report on its findings. As part of this review, we urge you to take a close look at the policies and practices related to solitary confinement and other reported abuses at the NWDC that have impacted the health, safety and legal rights of individuals held in the facility. A thorough review by your office is critical to holding ICE and the GEO Group, the private contractor operating the NWDC, accountable for the treatment of individuals at the NWDC,” Cantwell and Smith continued.

In their letter, Cantwell and Smith also raised the ongoing investigation into the 2018 death of Mergensana Amar, a Russian asylum seeker detained in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Northwest Detention Center.

“Separately, we urge you to complete the report on the tragic death of Mergensana Amar. It has been almost a year since this investigation began. It is imperative that the investigation is completed in a timely manner and if possible for the results to be made public.”

The full text of the letter can be found HERE and below.

October 23, 2019

Dear Inspector General Cuffari:

We write to express our deep concerns regarding the use of solitary confinement at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington. According to news reports, several hundred individuals have been held in solitary confinement at the NWDC between 2013 and 2017. Local activists also have indicated that detainees have been placed in solitary confinement in retaliation for complaining about poor conditions at the NWDC. These reports are deeply troubling especially considering the known negative impacts that solitary confinement can have on the physical and mental health of individuals regardless of the duration of time they are held in isolation.

The misuse of solitary confinement at immigration detention centers was highlighted in a report issued by your office on June 3, 2019. Following inspections at four detention facilities, the report found overly restrictive and inappropriate segregation practices at three of the detention facilities, violating U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention standards and infringing on individual rights.

The tragic death of Mergensana Amar, a Russian asylum seeker who was held at the NWDC last year, once again raised concerns about the use of solitary confinement. Before his death on November 24, 2018, Mr. Amar had been on a hunger strike for three months and placed in an isolated cell that reportedly lacked adequate provisions and monitoring. Days after being placed in solitary confinement, Mr. Amar tragically took his own life. While we welcome the decision by your predecessor, John Kelly, to open an investigation surrounding Mr. Amar’s death, it is clear a broader atmosphere of abuse and mistreatment exists at the NWDC. 

We understand that your office conducted an inspection of the NWDC in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 and is currently conducting a review and preparing a report on its findings. As part of this review, we urge you to take a close look at the policies and practices related to solitary confinement and other reported abuses at the NWDC that have impacted the health, safety and legal rights of individuals held in the facility. A thorough review by your office is critical to holding ICE and the GEO Group, the private contractor operating the NWDC, accountable for the treatment of individuals at the NWDC.

Separately, we urge you to complete the report on the tragic death of Mergensana Amar. It has been almost a year since this investigation began. It is imperative that the investigation is completed in a timely manner and if possible for the results to be made public.

We appreciate your prompt attention regarding the pattern of abuses and dangerous conditions that have been reported within the NWDC and look forward to discussing the results of your investigations with you.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) today issued the following statement after the death of Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

“The passing of Chairman Elijah Cummings is a profound loss for the nation, Maryland, and those who, like me, were lucky enough to call him both a colleague and friend. 

“Chairman Cummings devoted his life to service, starting as a teen on the front lines of the civil rights movement. Since then, his lifetime of dedication to justice made him an icon in the fight for equality in his local community and nationwide. A passionate advocate, he leaves the legacy of a generation who showed us that we can be better. In his unyielding way, he sought and rallied for the truth that the American people deserve. For that, we are grateful.

“Chairman Cummings was a tremendous leader, but more importantly he was a great human being. I served beside him in Congress for decades, and I had the privilege to work closely with him on the Benghazi Committee. While we served together for years, it didn’t take long for me to realize he was an incredible human being with acute moral clarity. As Chairman of the Committee on Oversight, he wielded immense power, but he did so with grace. The entire Congress will deeply miss his voice, perspective, and grace.

“I extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends, and all those whose lives have been affected by his service to our nation.”

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) today issued the following statement after the House passed a number of bills regarding the recent developments in Hong Kong:

“The critical bills passed by the House of Representatives today will hold leaders in Beijing accountable at a time when Hong Kong’s freedom is under threat. These bills are more important than ever as actions to undermine the freedom of the people of Hong Kong become increasingly violent.

“The United States is committed to supporting the people of Hong Kong, working to ensure their autonomy, and protecting their fundamental rights. Protesters by the tens of thousands in Hong Kong are increasingly being met with expanded police powers and additional restrictions to curb their ability to voice their democratic aspirations. This suppression of basic freedoms and human rights is deeply concerning, and we must remain committed to democratic principles both at home and abroad.

“Leaders in Beijing and Hong Kong must address the legitimate concerns of these protestors and understand the consequences for diminishing the autonomy, human rights, and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”  

###

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) today issued the following statement in response to the Trump Administration’s announcement regarding a Turkish military operation in Northern Syria that would put American-supported Kurdish forces near the border in harm’s way.

“The Trump Administration’s recently announced decision to withdraw U.S. military personnel from Northern Syria will harm American-backed Kurdish troops and is a catastrophic mistake. 

“The Kurds have been our strongest ally and closest partner in the fight against ISIS. The Defense Department and State Department negotiated a security mechanism in Northeast Syria that addresses Turkish security concerns and enables our partners in Syria to remain focused on ISIS. Abandoning this agreement with our partners in Northeast Syria sends the wrong signal and will only further destabilize security in Syria, while enhancing ISIS’s ability to rebuild in strength and numbers.

“Despite the Administration’s actions to the contrary, the U.S. relies on allies and partners to ensure its security at home and abroad. Abandoning the Kurds sends the message that the U.S. is an unreliable partner in the fight against terror, with our own President opening the door for our adversaries to take the lead on the global stage against us.”

###

Statement from Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09):

“The Expansion and Troubling Use of ICE Detention”
House Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship
September 26, 2019

Washington D.C. – Today, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship held a hearing on the expansion of our broken immigration detention system and the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, which is led by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA). After the hearing, members of Congress and advocates spoke at a press conference at the United States Capitol urging support for the bill. Congressman Smith submitted the following statement for the record in the hearing:

Amidst the vibrant communities and people I am proud to represent in the Ninth District of Washington, the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) stands in direct opposition to the shared values of our community and country. Located in the district and run by the private corporation GEO Group, this immigration detention facility exemplifies the lack of humanity that plagues our immigration system and detention centers.

For years, I have worked with constituents and advocates to bring about needed positive change at the NWDC. Together we have fought to improve health care services, living conditions inside the facility, and access to legal counsel. We are working tirelessly with the families and loved ones of those detained to get information about their immigration proceedings and hold Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) accountable for their actions. The dedication from countless people and organizations that support immigrants detained at the NWDC, such as the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, is nothing short of inspiring. However, to end the injustices at the NWDC and throughout our immigration system, we need Congress to pass the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act to substantially reform this broken system.   

The changes we need will require us to rethink the entire purpose and structure of the immigration detention system. The system currently incentivizes and facilitates arbitrarily detaining people, while providing little to no protection, due process, or basic humanity to the thousands of individuals it impacts. At an incredible cost to the federal government, the use of detention centers continues to skyrocket; over 51,000 immigrants are imprisoned by ICE right now. There is no justifiable reason to imprison the vast majority of people that are currently held in detention.

The people that fill our detention centers came to the U.S. to live a better life, including many who are here seeking asylum. Nearly all detained immigrants pose no threat or danger to society, and in many cases, these immigrants were already meaningfully contributing and living in our communities. Yet our immigration system operates on the misguided presumption that immigrants pose an inherent threat to communities. Rethinking our system means repealing mandatory detention, incorporating strong protections for vulnerable populations and, if an individual needs to be placed in detention, placing the burden of proof on the government to clearly show that person poses a threat to the community.

The United States also allows private corporations to profit off the imprisonment of human beings. There is absolutely no reason that for-profit corporations, such as the GEO Group, which owns and operates the NWDC, should be running immigration detention centers. These companies are concerned with their bottom line; not the well-being of the people held in their facilities. We need to phase out private detention facilities and dramatically improve accountability and oversight to ensure compliance with enhanced detention standards.

The system doesn’t have to be the way that it is today. Alternatives to detention, such as community-based programs, have proven to be effective at ensuring individuals appear at immigration proceedings while providing critical legal services and other support. Not only are these programs far more humane than detention, they are significantly less costly to the government. Individuals can live with their families and loved ones while immigration proceedings move forward, allowing government resources to instead be put towards other priorities.

I am proud to have worked with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal to once again introduce the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act and to bring humanity, due process, and accountability to the failed immigration detention system. The Congresswoman’s leadership and commitment to this issue is unparalleled. We cannot talk about immigration reform without a conversation about the current detention system, and I greatly appreciate Chair Lofgren for holding a hearing to push that conversation forward. 

There is no better place to see the value that immigrants and diversity bring to our country than in and around the Ninth District of the state of Washington. We are proud to be the home to many refugees, DACA recipients, asylum seekers, and other immigrants who are contributing to the fabric of our communities and making our district a better place. I am hopeful that we can make progress towards a fair and just immigration system that treats people with the dignity they deserve.

###