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.