Press Releases

“Today, I voted in support of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, legislation that is also commonly known as the Farm Bill. This legislation provides critical nutrition assistance to individuals and families who rely on help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Washington’s Basic Food Employment and Training Program (BFET). Seniors, low-income families, children, veterans, and those with disabilities participate in these programs to help ensure they stay healthy and have access to food. Local food banks across Washington state count on the availability of these benefits to service communities in need.

“I am also pleased that the Conference Report did not include dangerous environmental provisions and harmful changes to SNAP. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our farm policy supports nutritional assistance for those that are food-insecure, and that farming is done sustainably with minimal harm to the environment. This bill makes meaningful investments in nutrition programs and avoids disastrous cuts to environmental programs that would have taken our farm policy backwards.”

“I continue to strongly question the deployment of U.S. military servicemembers at our southern border. Furthermore, the decision to extend this deployment to the end of January 2019 is not a responsible use of Department of Defense resources and is the completely wrong approach to the situation. To date, there has not been adequate justification for the use of our military personnel in this way, which is why I have questioned this decision from the beginning.

“The President’s dangerous rhetoric referring to people seeking asylum as an ‘invasion’ deeply misrepresents the situation and needlessly ramps up tension. There is no question that we face a challenge with a rise in the number of people seeking asylum. However, the response should not be deploying troops to our border, but instead increasing resources to process asylum applications, including additional judges and asylum officers.

“Additionally, the continued practice of detaining asylum seekers is inhumane and the cost is overwhelming. It’s abhorrent that there are over 40,000 people in custody in detention centers across the U.S. when we know alternatives to detention are proven to be effective at ensuring compliance with immigration proceedings, and drastically less costly than detention.

“Directing military servicemembers to ‘harden the border’ and provide vague support to Customs and Border Protection misses the point entirely. These people are fleeing violence and persecution to seek asylum. They are turning themselves in, not circumventing our laws. This continued expansion of the use of Department of Defense resources and personnel to fulfill the misguided immigration agenda of this administration, which is not part of the mission of the Department of Defense, must come to an end.”

Washington, D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) released the following statement about the Trump administration’s decision to declare Russia in material breach of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty without meaningfully consulting U.S. allies and partners, and its declaration of intent to begin withdrawing from the accord in 60 days:

“The Trump administration is unilaterally taking action on the INF Treaty without meaningful consultation and coordination with our NATO allies. Setting us on a precipitous course toward withdrawal from this treaty undermines the NATO alliance and transatlantic security, while playing directly into President Putin’s plans to divide us. It is no secret that some of President Trump’s advisers are more focused on promoting U.S. withdrawal from its international commitments than prioritizing the collective security of America and its partners and allies. The Trump administration should instead work with our allies to take meaningful actions to hold Russia accountable for its violation of the treaty, press Russia back into compliance, and avoid a new arms race.”

Smith, Murray, Cantwell and Jayapal Call for Answers and Transparency in Death of Asylum Seeker at Northwest Detention Center

Washington, DC – This week, Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09) led a letter with Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demanding answers surrounding the recent death of Mergensana Amar, a Russian asylum seeker detained in the custody of ICE at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. In the letter, the lawmakers call for transparency and a thorough understanding of the circumstances and actions taken leading up to Mr. Amar’s death.

The Members write in part, “The federal government has a solemn duty to care for and protect those within its custody, including individuals detained by ICE… We request that you provide information to our offices regarding the circumstances surrounding the treatment and care for Mr. Amar, and what improvements you will make to avoid other similar tragedies in the future.”

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

Acting Director Ronald D. Vitiello

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Department of Homeland Security

500 12th Street SW

Washington, D.C. 20536

 

Dear Acting Director Vitiello: 

 

We are deeply saddened by the recent death of Mergensana Amar, a Russian asylum seeker detained in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington.

 

The federal government has a solemn duty to care for and protect those within its custody, including individuals detained by ICE. News of Mr. Amar’s death follows a report condemning conditions in ICE’s Adelanto Detention Center in California.[1] The report recounts nooses found hanging in cells, lack of adequate mental health services, and access to medical care at the facility.[2] In light of this report, we are particularly alarmed by tragic news of Mr. Amar’s suicide, and are concerned with ICE practice and protocol for preventing such deaths moving forward.

 

We request that you provide information to our offices regarding the circumstances surrounding the treatment and care for Mr. Amar, and what improvements you will make to avoid other similar tragedies in the future. Please provide the following information and answers to questions by Tuesday December 11, 2018:

  • A copy of any detainee death reviews and reports related to Mr. Amar.
  • A detailed timeline of where Mr. Amar was located within the Northwest Detention Center (segregation/solitary confinement, general population, health unit, or elsewhere), and rationale for each instance in which he was moved.
  • A copy of any review of Mr. Amar’s placement in segregation, as required by the September 2013 ICE Segregation Memo.
  • A detailed timeline of exactly what medical services were provided, when they were provided, and the results of any medical evaluations.
  • A copy of the court order ICE obtained for involuntary hydration as well as any records that indicate how ICE used this order.
  • ICE stated that Mr. Amar “remained in good physical health prior to this incident” – by what measures was he determined to be in good physical health? Who determined that he was in good physical health?
  • Did ICE conduct mental health checks? How often, by whom, and in what manner?
  • At any point in time, did anyone question whether Mr. Amar was a threat to his own safety? If so, at what point was this determined by ICE and what was the rationale? If a determination was made that he was a threat to his own safety, what actions were taken and procedures followed to prevent Mr. Amar from harming himself?
  • While he was on hunger strike, was Mr. Amar threatened with force feeding? Was Mr. Amar denied privileges, such as access to the law library, telephone, television, or other privileges while he was on hunger strike?
  • Based on your death review findings related to Mr. Amar, what changes, improvements to policy and protocol, and best practices will you implement to ensure the health and safety of detainees, and to prevent similar health related tragedies from occurring again.

 

It is imperative that there be transparency and a thorough understanding of the circumstances and actions taken leading up to Mr. Amar’s death. We look forward to hearing from you promptly.

 

Sincerely,

 

Washington, DC – Following the death of Mergansana Amar, a Russian asylum seeker detained in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington, Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09), Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General requesting a comprehensive inspection and review of the conditions at the NWDC and an investigation into the death of Mr. Amar.      

The Members write in part, “There is a clear pattern that indicates a severe lack of oversight and repeated failures to make sufficient improvements by ICE and private contractors operating detention facilities… It’s vital that we understand what happened and what improvements must be made to address safety and health risks that could otherwise lead to similar tragic incidents in the future.”

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

 

The Honorable John V. Kelly

Acting Inspector General

Office of the Inspector General

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

245 Murray Lane SW

Washington, D.C. 20528

 

Dear Acting Inspector General Kelly: 

We write to urge the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to conduct a thorough investigation of the death of Mergansana Amar, a Russian asylum seeker detained in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington. In addition, we urge you to conduct a comprehensive inspection and review of the conditions at the NWDC, including potential retaliation against detainee whistleblowers.

The Northwest Detention Center is operated by the GEO Group, which is the same private contractor that operates the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in California. As you are aware, Adelanto was the subject of a recent report from your office which condemned conditions at the facility. The Management Alert, issued by the OIG on September 27, 2018, recounts conditions that pose “significant health and safety risks at the facility.” The report identified several risks that showed improper and overly restrictive segregation and inadequate medical care at the GEO-run facility. Among many alarming observations, the OIG found that medical providers at Adelanto prematurely and inappropriately placed detainees in disciplinary segregation, improperly handcuffed and shackled detainees, failed to provide necessary auxiliary aids or translated materials regarding their segregations, and that in 10 of 14 instances the required direct communication with detainees and medical or mental health staff was not conducted.

We are alarmed by the similarities between findings by the OIG at Adelanto and reports our offices have received regarding conditions at the NWDC. Individuals detained at the NWDC have engaged in a series of hunger strikes over the past four years to highlight ongoing concerns, including alleged abuse of solitary confinement and failure to provide prompt and adequate medical treatment. Our staff have visited the facility multiple times and heard from NWDC staff and detainees about shortages in health care and mental health care providers. Furthermore, we have received reports GEO Group and ICE retaliated against people who spoke out about their treatment at the NWDC. These issues are especially relevant in the context of Mr. Amar’s death, who had been engaged in a hunger strike and found to be at risk of suicide by ICE.

As you are aware, findings of negligent care and unsafe conditions at detention centers across the country have not been isolated incidents. Since the OIG began conducting unannounced inspections in 2017, it released three reports on surprise inspections at ICE facilities revealing conditions that undermine the health and safety of detainees. Moreover, just this week, an autopsy report found Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, a 33-year-old transgender asylum seeker from Honduras detained at a private detention center in New Mexico, was physically abused in detention and died after several days of severe, untreated dehydration. These reports are unacceptable.

There is a clear pattern that suggests a severe lack of oversight and repeated failures to make sufficient improvements by ICE and private contractors operating detention facilities. We understand there are existing internal processes within ICE to inspect detention facilities and investigate deaths. However, reports published on December 11, 2017 and June 26, 2018 by your office indicated that these processes often do not lead to any improvements in practices and conditions, and ICE has not effectively held private facilities accountable for adhering to ICE’s detention standards. Clearly, these processes are not working and are failing to protect the wellbeing of detainees.

A full investigation by the Office of Inspector General into Mr. Amar’s death and a comprehensive inspection and review of the conditions at the Northwest Detention Center is imperative. It’s vital that we understand what happened and what improvements must be made to address safety and health risks that could otherwise lead to similar tragic incidents in the future.

 

Sincerely,