Proposed Bill Would Increase Oversight of Immigration Detention Facilities

By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña

Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego. Photo by Adriana Heldiz for Voice of San Diego

A bill that would increase the oversight of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers as well as establish that no federal funds be used for the construction or expansion of immigration detention facilities was introduced on Tuesday, May 15.

United States Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) introduced the bill also known as the Detention Oversight Not Expansion Act or DONE Act.

The bill would require the inspection of immigration detention facilities and findings to be reported to Congress.

Department of Homeland Security would also be required to submit a report to Congress that details plans to decrease the number of detention beds by using alternatives to detention. As well as a plan to restore and expand the Family Case Management Program, which offers an alternative to detention to those individuals moving through immigration proceedings.

“ICE’s indiscriminate approach to immigration enforcement continues to sow fear and anxiety in communities across the nation and strict oversight is long overdue,” Harris said in a statement.

In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General reported concerns about the treatment and care of detainees at five detention facilities in the United States.

“Overall, we identified problems that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment,” the report reads.

The five detention facilities inspected included: the Laredo Processing Center in Texas, Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, Santa Ana City Jail, Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico, and the Hudson County Jail in New Jersey.

According to a background report on the DONE Act, consequences of facilities not providing safe and health environments for detainees include instances of sexual abuse in detention facilities, medical negligence – especially in regards to pregnant women – lack of access to counsel, and deaths in ICE custody.

“It is unconscionable to subject detainees to inhumane conditions that include cases of unchecked sexual abuse, outright medical negligence, lack of access to counsel, and in some cases, even death. It’s time to end the expansion of these facilities that divert these resources to address true public safety threats,” Harris said in a statement.

An ICE spokesperson said ICE does not comment on pending legislation in response for a request to comment on the DONE Act.

The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General to conduct unannounced inspections of all immigration detention facilities focusing on health, safety, and care of detainees, specifically pregnant women.

It would also require the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to conduct investigation and submit those finding to Congress.

A spokesperson for the DHS said as a matter of policy, the department does not comment on proposed legislation in response for a request to comment on the DONE Act.

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