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Immigration News: Bill to End Family Detention, For-Profit Prisons Introduced by Latino Congressman

First Posted: Sep 29, 2015 12:36 PM EDT
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U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., introduced legislation aimed to curb a mandate requiring a federal immigration agency to fill tens of thousands of beds for detained immigrants.

The "Justice Is Not For Sale Act" (H.R. 3543) calls for a ban of private prisons, removes the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) daily mandate to fill 34,000 beds with detainees and end family detention. The bill also requires ICE, an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to improve its detention facility monitoring and use Alternatives to Detention (ATD). Grijalva's legislation would increase oversight to prevent companies from overcharging detainees and their families for basic services such as telephone calls and banking.

"Treating detainees as a means to a profit margin incentivizes jailors to lobby for ever more inmates, and ensures those inmates are denied even the basic staples they're entitled to," Grijalva said. "The result is a corrections system collapsing under its own weight as the prison industry gets rich and countless innocent men, women and children are ensnared in their trap."

According to a "Fact Sheet," no other U.S. federal or local law enforcement agency detains people based on daily quotas. Further, Grijalva noted the federal government would save $1.4 billion, annually, if the daily bed quota mandate was eliminated.

In June, Grijalva, along with several members of Congress, visited two for-profit immigrant detention centers in Texas. Visiting the Karnes County Residential Center and South Texas Family Residential Center, Grijalva said it was "heartbreaking" seeking the conditions women and children encountered.

He acknowledged that the federal government as a hand in the current policies and conditions of the detention centers. Despite reforms by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to improve conditions and oversight, Grijalva said in June, "[I]t doesn't matter how gilded the cage might be, it's still a cage -- it's still a prison for women and children."

With H.R. 3543, with the call to end private detention, the legislation would have detention facilities under the "direct, operational control" of the federal government.

In regards to ending family detention, the bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act. The bill prohibits the DHS secretary from separating families whose members were apprehended together. The DHS secretary, however, may detain an immigrant parents if the individual poses a danger to the community.

"Our corrections system exists to uphold the rule of law -- not to house innocent refugees or feed the greed of corporate interests," Grijalva said in a statement. "Federal, state, and local governments don't need a middleman to administer justice, and the taxpayers don't need the extra expenses these contracts entail."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced a complementary bill in the Senate. Known as S. 2054, the Senate bill also calls for the end of the daily bed quota, elimination of private prisons and end of family detention.

As of Sept. 24, H.R. 3543 has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security. It has also received sponsorship from fellow Latino lawmakers Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y. S. 2054 has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

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For the latest updates, follow Latin Post's Politics Editor Michael Oleaga on Twitter: @EditorMikeO or contact via email: m.oleaga@latinpost.com.

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