Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) introduced the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, legislation to reform the systemic problems in our immigration detention system. Our current system is inhumane, unjust, and driven by private, for-profit corporations like The GEO Group, which operates the Northwest Detention Center located in Tacoma, Washington. This bill will end the use of private facilities and repeal mandatory detention, while restoring due process, oversight, accountability, and transparency to the immigration detention system.

“We must fix the injustices in our broken immigration detention system,” said Congressman Adam Smith. “As the Trump administration continues to push a misguided and dangerous immigration agenda, we need to ensure fair treatment and due process for immigrants and refugees faced with detention. This legislation will address some of the worst failings of our immigration policy, and restore integrity and humanity to immigration proceedings.”

“The high moral cost of our inhumane immigration detention system is reprehensible. Large, private corporations operating detention centers are profiting off the suffering of men, women and children. We need an overhaul,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “It’s clear that the Trump administration is dismantling the few protections in place for detained immigrants even as he ramps up enforcement against parents and vulnerable populations. This bill addresses the most egregious problems with our immigration detention system. It’s Congress’ responsibility to step up and pass this bill.”

In addition to repealing mandatory detention, a policy that often results in arbitrary and indefinite detention, the legislation creates a meaningful inspection process at detention facilities to ensure they meet the government’s own standards. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish legally enforceable civil detention standards in line with those adopted by the American Bar Association. With disturbing track records of abuse and neglect, DHS has a responsibility to ensure that facilities are held accountable for the humane treatment of those awaiting immigration proceedings.

Individuals held in our immigration detention system are subject to civil law, but are often held in conditions identical to prisons. In many cases, detained people are simply awaiting their day in court. To correct the persistent failures of due process, the legislation requires the government to show probable cause to detain people, and implements a special rule for primary caregivers and vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and people with serious medical and mental health issues.

"My time in detention in Artesia was a nightmare, a scene in which there is fear, anguish, and desperation in every breath. The immigration detention system harms the lives of thousands of people every day. The solution is not to just improve conditions in these detention centers, the real solution must be a fundamental change. Congress must urgently act to pass this bill and bring change to this tragic system of immigration detention," said Angelina Marquez, survivor of U.S. detention system.

“Being detained was difficult in every way. You are a prisoner. I am speaking out because the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act gives me hope that the U.S. government can find a way to stop the inhumane treatment being given to so many immigrants. We want to live peacefully and safely, and our country’s leaders must remember that all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity,” said Daniel, survivor of U.S. detention system.

“Our government locks away hundreds of thousands of people every year, hidden in remote jails with punishing conditions and no accountability. President Trump is asking Congress to give DHS even more money to super-fund this abusive network of jails. We applaud Representatives Smith and Jayapal for responding to this madness with a plan - a workable, compassionate and rights-respecting alternative to today's shameful reality,” said Mary Meg McCarthy of the National Immigration Justice Center.

“The Trump administration has made it clear that they will aggressively target immigrants for arrest and detention. This bill is an important step toward stemming the unchecked expansion of the immigration detention system, ensuring much needed oversight and accountability over detention operations and providing greater protections for immigrants. We call on Congress to immediately pass this bill in order to end the over-reliance on an inhumane and ineffective system and treat immigrants in detention with fairness and dignity,” said Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Over the past decade, the immigration detention system has grown dramatically without sufficient safeguards against human and civil rights abuses. It is a system known for egregious violations including sexual assault, prolonged solitary confinement, and life-threatening medical neglect. Many of the people detained are fleeing persecution in their home countries, while others have lived in the U.S. for years. They are often detained in for-profit prisons and county jails isolated from family, community and legal support. Many are detained for months without access to an immigration judge and are denied basic rights.”

“Our immigration detention system is a driving force of the U.S. deportation agenda, ruthlessly separating families and communities. For the past three decades the government has put hundreds of thousands of immigrants behind bars at a massive human, financial and moral cost. Under this administration, an already oppressive, inhumane and deadly system of detention has become even bigger, less transparent and less accountable. It is exactly at this moment—as the administration pushes to massively expand the system and further undermine the rights of all immigrants—that Congress must take immediate and decisive action to intervene. While this bill does not fully end the inhumane and unnecessary system of immigration detention, it takes a bold step forward by ending mandatory detention, ending privatized detention, enacting critical safeguards and reversing the trend of constant, unchecked growth,” said Mary Small, Detention Watch Network.  

The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act is cosponsored by John Conyers Jr. (MI-13), Maxine Waters (CA-43), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Luis V. Gutierrez (IL-4), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Bobby Rush (IL-1), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Elijah E. Cummings (MD-7), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Danny K. Davis (IL-7), James P. McGovern (MA-2), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Gwen Moore (WI-4), Steve Cohen (TN-9), Keith Ellison (MN-5), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson (GA-4), Chellie Pingree (ME-1), Jared Polis (CO-2), Mike Quigley (IL-5), Judy Chu (CA-27), Bill Foster (IL-11), David N. Cicilline (RI-1), Suzan DelBene (WA-1), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Colleen Hanabusa (HI-1), Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8), Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-4), Marc Veasey (TX-33), Ruben Gallego (AZ-7), Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Kathleen M. Rice (NY-4), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Jamie Raskin (MD-8), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34).

The legislation is also supported by the following civil society organizations: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Asian Americans Advancing Justice - AAJC, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition, Center for Community Change, The Center for Victims of Torture, Church Council of Greater Seattle, Church World Service, Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, Columbia Legal Services, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Democracy for America, Detention Watch Network, FIRM, Grassroots Leadership, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Immigration Equality Action Fund, Just Detention International, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Make the Road New York, Make the Road NJ, MoveOn.org Civic Action, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigration Law Center, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), National Network to End Domestic Violence, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, OneAmerica, Our Revolution, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), Southern Poverty Law Center, Tahirih Justice Center, United We Dream, Washington Defender Association, Women’s Refugee Commission, 21 Progress

Smith Statement on Hurricane Maria Relief Effort

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) made the following statement about the Hurricane Maria disaster relief effort:

October 3, 2017

“The military effort in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands continues to be significantly under-resourced and we are still not responding properly to the logistical needs at hand. These U.S. citizens are in desperate need of heliborne airlift and search capability, truck drivers, and civil engineers to clear roads and enable the delivery of food, water, and supplies. The center of Puerto Rico is still almost entirely cut off from the outside world as a result of power outages, blocked and washed-out roads, and the destruction of telecommunication infrastructure. People are scared in their homes as they lack water, fuel, and electricity.

“We currently have only 50 helicopters responding to these logistical challenges, compared to a  need for far more and a logistical approach that makes proper use of them. There are only some 10,000 troops involved, in contrast to 60,000 during Hurricane Katrina and 22,000 during last year’s Haiti earthquake. The USNS Comfort is only just arriving and President Trump just now visiting the site of a hurricane that happened on September 20. The USS New York and USS Iwo Jima, which helped with relief in Florida during Hurricane Irma, are still sitting in dock in Florida.

“It shouldn’t have taken Congressional pressure to convince President Trump that he should appoint a three-star general to head the effort and send additional supplies. Lt. General Buchanan is only beginning to take stock of the situation, and because of the lag time of more than two weeks, this humanitarian effort is already so far behind the curve that I fear an enormous amount of damage has already been done.

“We know that, as American citizens, the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are resilient and resourceful, but many are without food and water and time is running short. Our military has transportation units with truck drivers and engineer units to clear the streets. It has airlift. It has the capabilities that could make a difference if they are put to good use. President Trump needs to exercise leadership and get these capabilities working for Americans who are in need as soon as possible.”

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) made the following statement about this week’s incident regarding racial slurs at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School:

“The Air Force needs to investigate this incident thoroughly and take appropriate action. There is no place in the military for these kinds of acts. Incidents like these, even if they are performed by a single individual, offend our moral sensibilities and they can undermine the morale of service members and cadets. It is a bedrock principle that everyone in the U.S. military should be treated with dignity and respect.”

Washington, D.C. — Today, House Armed Services Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) and Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) led 145 Members of Congress in writing a letter to President Trump demanding that the Department of Defense deploy additional resources to aid recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Lawmakers are calling for the appointment of a senior general to oversee all recovery efforts, the deployment of life-saving military capabilities that would otherwise be unavailable to the relief effort, deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and an increase in personnel to assist local law enforcement.

“President Trump’s effort to aid Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands has been wholly inadequate to date,” said Smith. “When a hurricane hits in the continental United States, you can send massive aid via roads, the National Guard can arrive from neighboring states, and people can leave the affected area. None of that is true here. There is no National Guard Navy, and more than 3.5 million American citizens are isolated and unable to access the most basic supplies. The U.S. military has unique capabilities that can help alleviate this situation, and the President must exercise the proper leadership to make that happen.”

“3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico are facing a dire humanitarian crisis,” said Velázquez. “I have heard from seniors whose medical needs are not being met due to power outages, children who are suffering from extreme heat in the crowded airport and families who are still unable to contact their loved ones. These are matters of life and death.” 

“While the situation on the ground remains desperate, President Trump held a press conference yesterday congratulating his Administration on their response,” Velázquez added.  “If President Trump doesn’t swiftly deploy every available resource that our country has, then he has failed the people of Puerto Rico -- and this will become his Katrina. Every second in this effort counts and the stakes are too high for further delay, inaction or inefficiency.”

The full text of the letter is below and online here with a list of signatories.  

For a PDF, click here.

 

September 27, 2017

President Donald J. Trump

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear President Trump:

On September 20th, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands endured a direct impact from Hurricane Maria. With winds up to 160 mph, Hurricane Maria devastated these islands, caused significant power outages, destroyed telecommunications infrastructure, and thereby paralyzed the region. Given the impact of the damage and the population of 3.6 million American citizens affected, we are concerned that federal efforts to date have been insufficient to address the severity of the situation. We know there are DOD elements helping today, and all the service members involved are working very hard, but we are concerned that the scale of DOD assets supporting the operation are inadequate. Thus, we write to urge you to further mobilize the Department of Defense to immediately deploy additional assets in support of Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Island recovery efforts.

As you know, the Department of Defense has additional capabilities that could help alleviate suffering in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and prevent this catastrophe from worsening. First and foremost, a senior general officer must be appointed to work with FEMA to manage a joint response assist with the recovery effort on the ground, and enable local constituencies to have a single point of contact. This was done in response to Hurricane Katrina, and we feel the same approach is warranted now for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

As we are sure you are aware, in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, there are numerous municipalities that are inaccessible from the ground, which is where DOD engineer and aviation assets would be most helpful. With millions of U.S. citizens stranded in remote areas without basic necessities, engineers are needed first to clear the roads. Additional aviation assets are needed to get relief supplies to isolated locations. Additionally, substantial ground and air logistics support is required to get aid to the islands, rescue stranded citizens, and provide them with supplies and thereafter assist with the restoration of power and telecommunications infrastructure if needed. To fulfill DOD's mission, we believe the aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, should be sent to the region, similar to its deployment to Miami following Hurricane Irma.

DHS has indicated it has "provided more than 1.5 million meals, 1.1 million liters of water, nearly 300 infant and toddler kits, and nearly 12,000 emergency roofing kits to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria's landfall." While these meals and resources are profoundly needed, unfortunately, there is a large portion of the population that has been underserved.

Lastly, DOD has critical resources that could assist with addressing security issues. We have heard reports that the ongoing supply shortages are causing looting and crime. We were recently informed of armed gangs ransacking a warehouse that distributes food and supplies. Defense Department personnel could provide essential support to local law enforcement in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to ensure relief supplies are delivered to those most in need- and that those that have already been immensely devastated by the hurricane, do not need to fear for their lives when filling up their gas at the pump or securing food for their family.

We thank you for your immediate attention to this matter. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.

We look forward to your timely response.

###

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) made the following statement about President Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico:

 “The Trump administration’s response to the destruction in Puerto Rico has been wholly inadequate. A territory of 3.5 million American citizens is almost completely without power, water, food, and telephone service, and we have a handful of helicopters involved in DOD's response. It’s a disgrace. At a minimum, President Trump needs to assemble a coordinated military effort headed by a three-star general officer, as President Bush did after Hurricane Katrina.”