Leahy Cosponsors Booker Bill Targeting Family Detention, Inhumane Conditions Of Immigration Detention Centers, Flawed Detention Processing System

. . . Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act would make a number of much-needed reforms to immigration detention system

U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), today introduced a bill targeting family detention and the harsh and inhumane conditions of immigration detention centers that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses to house thousands of immigrants. The bill is a Senate companion to a House bill introduced in October by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Adam Smith (D-WA).

The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act would significantly restrict family detention, preventing the federal government from expending resources to detain immigrants except in instances where immigrants pose a flight risk or a risk to public safety. The bill also ends the use of private prisons to detain immigrants, sets humane standards for detention facilities, strengthens the inspection and monitoring of facilities in order to crack down on abuses, and better protects the civil rights of immigrant detainees.

“For centuries, the United States has been known throughout the world as a beacon of light and hope for the downtrodden, the oppressed, the cast aside,” Senator Booker said. “America is at its best when we welcome immigrants fleeing oppression, famine, or injustice. Yes, our borders must be secure, but our immigration policies also need to reflect our American values.”

“Separating immigrant children from their parents, indefinitely detaining families, and subjecting families to the inhumane conditions in which detainees are currently held is shameful,” Senator Booker added. “And the fact that many immigrants are often arrested and held in such conditions without due process is completely at odds with our Constitution and our ideals. Our bill would make a series of reforms to fix this broken system and restore justice and fairness to our immigration detention system.”

“President Trump’s plan to replace family separation with mass family incarceration is no plan at all,” Senator Leahy said. “Effective alternatives to detention exist, and families that pose no flight risk or a threat to public safety should not languish inside the caged government shelters. We must never revisit those dark chapters in our history when we interned families falsely and repulsively in the name of national security. I am proud to be the lead cosponsor of this legislation that would protect the dignity and due process of vulnerable immigrants, in line with our most basic values."

“The United States of America is not and must never be about locking up little children in cages on the southern border,” Senator Sanders said. “This bill will provide important safeguards, preventing the Trump administration’s inhumane detention policies. Instead of throwing entire families in jail, many of whom are fleeing unspeakable violence in their own countries and seeking protection under our asylum laws, we should treat people in a way that upholds our moral values and the ideals of our laws.”


Specifically, the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act would:

  • Prevent the detention of a primary caregiver, or vulnerable populations (i.e. minors, pregnant women, LGBTQ individuals, survivors of torture, etc.) unless the government can show it is unreasonable or not practicable to place them in community-based supervision.
  • Establish binding civil detention standards that are at least as protective as the Civil Immigration Detention Standards adopted by the American Bar Association in 2012 (the detention standards currently in use are not binding and provide minimal protections modeled on correctional rather than civil detention systems).
  • Require the DHS Office of the Inspector General to conduct unannounced inspections of all detention facilities at least once per year and to make such reports publicly available (the current system of inspections and oversight is rife with loopholes and woefully inadequate to document and remedy egregious failures. For example, facilities are given advance warning of inspections and most facilities are inspected using outdated standards).
    • Negative findings would result in financial penalties for contractors and remedial measures for DHS.
    • Require DHS to investigate any deaths in custody and make the resulting report publicly available (currently, DHS is not required by law release findings publically).
    • Require DHS to terminate all contracts with private prisons and local jails for the purpose of detention over the course of a three-year phase-out period.
    • Require DHS to obtain judicial warrants of arrest or provide detainees a probable cause hearing before an immigration judge within 48 hours of detention.
    • Strike the $1,500 minimum bond amount currently in the statute and require immigration judges to consider the immigrant’s ability to pay when setting bond.
    • Require DHS to render a custody determination within 48 hours of taking an immigrant into custody and grants the immigrant the right to appeal such determination before an immigration judge within 72 hours.


Earlier this month, Leahy and Booker joined Senator Feinstein and 29 other Senate colleagues in introducing a bill to halt the Trump Administration policy of separating immigrant families at the border. Yesterday, he took to the Senate floor to blast the Trump policy.

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