The House of Representatives isn't in session this week, so Reps. Adam Smith and Pramila Jayapal are back in Seattle today to talk about a major piece of legislation introduced at the top of the month.
The "Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act" would phase out the use of private prisons for immigrant detainees.
The bill, introduced by Congressman Adam Smith on October 3, does much more than that, too. It promises an overhaul of the nation's immigration detention system. For example, the bill ends the policy of mandatory detention, whereby immigrants are automatically taken into custody if they have a criminal conviction—as are asylum seekers if they arrive without the proper paperwork. The American Civil Liberties Union has repeatedly challenged the practice of mandatory detention, which they say has greatly expanded immigrant detention and often sweeps up legal residents who have successfully been living in the US for decades after already serving sentences for offenses like drug possession. While immigrants today are subject to long periods of detention while awaiting bond hearings as a matter of policy (see the case of formerly detained DACA Dreamer Daniel Ramirez Medina in Seattle earlier this year), Smith's bill would institute a practice of immediate custody determinations in court, based on probable cause.
The bill also sets up inspections for private facilities that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), like private prison company GEO Group's Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. The Northwest Detention Center has long been the focus of hunger strikes from immigrant detainees and their supporters aiming to improve access to medical care and adequate nutrition.
Reps. Smith and Jayapal will be speaking about the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act at 1 p.m., and we'll have more details this afternoon. Watch this space for more.