Some Democrats aren’t satisfied with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement announcement that it would increase oversight at family detention facilities.
The family residential centers, as ICE calls them, were opened “following last summer’s unprecedented spike in illegal migration of unaccompanied minors and adults with children at the Rio Grande Valley,” ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña noted.
“One element of this comprehensive approach was opening additional facilities for adults with children, as they wait for a resolution to their immigration case,” Saldaña said this week. “While we routinely review and evaluate our facilities to ensure that we are providing the level of care required by our Family Residential Standards, we understand the unique and sensitive nature of detaining families and we are committed to maintaining the optimal level of care.”
“The measures ICE is announcing reaffirm that understanding and our commitment to ensuring all individuals in our custody are held and treated in a safe, secure, and humane manner,” she added.
Those measures include the creation of an advisory committee, a senior ICE official assigned to overseeing the detention centers, and listening to suggestions for improvements.
“While ICE’s family residential centers currently operate in an open environment that includes play rooms, social workers, educational services, comprehensive medical care, and access to legal counsel, ICE will explore ways to further enhance these conditions. The well-being of detained families, particularly of children, is of paramount importance to ICE. Similarly, ensuring access to counsel continues to be an ICE priority. As such, ICE will take additional measures to promote these values, including addressing language access issues for speakers of indigenous languages, providing dedicated work spaces for pro bono attorneys, and making available additional attorney-client meeting rooms,” ICE said in a press release.
“ICE will also implement a review process for any families detained beyond 90 days, and every 60 days thereafter, to ensure detention or the designated bond amount continues to be appropriate while families await conclusion of their immigration proceedings before the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review.”
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said ICE’s oversight announcement “misses the point.”
“It is wrong and irresponsible for our government to continue detaining children and their mothers,” Smith said. “We must not ignore that jailing children can have devastating impacts on a child’s development and cause serious psychological harm to these families.”
“We have less expensive and more humane alternatives to detention to monitor families while still adequately managing their cases,” the congressman continued. “Our government must focus on utilizing these alternatives, and I will continue to advocate for policies that do so. We need to get out of the business of detaining children and their mothers.”
Smith this week reintroduced his Accountability in Immigration Detention Act, which responded to a March 2014 hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in his district to protest conditions there. Smith said detainees there still say they receive inhumane treatment at the facility.
“Our immigration detention system is expensive, inhumane, and badly broken,” he said Thursday. “Our government spends millions of dollars detaining fathers, mothers, and children who have committed no crime in unacceptable conditions as they await immigration proceedings. This legislation would improve conditions by creating enforceable standards that are established and negotiated by a group of community stakeholders.”
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who’s expected to jump into the presidential race at the end of the month, tweeted today, “We should not be in the business of building barbed wire detention camps. Detentions are cruel, costly & against our values-esp for families.”