Texas Civil Rights, Immigrant, and Faith Organizations Speak out Against Latest Anti-Immigrant Hearing in Congress

March 28, 2012

Austin, TX – A coalition of central Texas human rights and faith organizations today spoke out against immigration hearings called by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX). While Congress continues to deny the moral and human rights crisis caused by mass detention, the groups drew attention to the more than 10,000 immigrants languishing in detention in Texas alone.

Wednesday afternoon Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) will convene a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement to continue his relentless assault on minimal efforts to address excesses and abuses in the current immigration enforcement system. The pretext for the hearing is the recent announcement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that it will implement a revised version of its internal guidelines on the treatment of immigrants detained in ICE facilities.

A coalition of local human rights and faith organizations condemns this latest round of anti-immigrant showboating and calls upon Congress to repeal mandatory detention, which is the root cause of mass immigrant incarceration.

"For Representative Smith to call the mass detention of immigrants for nothing more than their immigration status "hospitality" is ridiculous," said Rev. Kelly Allen, pastor of University Presbyterian Church and chair of the Immigration Task Force of Mission Presbytery. "Proven alternatives to detention exist and should be utilized. Improved detention standards are a step in the right direction, but ultimately we must end mandatory detention and broadly reform this broken system."

Far from being “hospitality guidelines,” as Congressmen Smith has called them, the 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS) fall short of providing the necessary protection for immigrants held by ICE. In 2009, after a scathing government report outlined the inhumane conditions and rampant fiscal waste in detention, the Obama Administration promised to address these problems in the only way possible: by moving away from locking up immigrants and towards new models of custody and supervision that reflect the “civil” nature of immigration proceedings. So far that has not happened. If anything, ICE’s latest standards represent the abandonment of that goal.

In the 2011 PBNDS, like the 2000 and 2008 versions, ICE continues to rely on penal standards. As a result, immigrants will continue to be held behind bars, often hundreds of miles from their families, with minimal if any access to legal services, vulnerable to the same substandard medical care and abuses that have prevailed in detention to date. Most importantly, the PBNDS are not enforceable or even legally binding, and there is no independent oversight of facilities to ensure compliance.

But Congressman Smith has chosen to grandstand and attack the new guidelines as coddling immigrants and increasing detention costs, rather than looking for real solutions to address the detention crisis head-on.

“If Lamar Smith is concerned about taxpayers footing the bill for detention, he should consider dedicating his energies to the repeal of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), the legislation he helped pass 16 years ago, which has been almost single-handedly responsible for the tripling of the number of people in detention,” said Andrea Black, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network. “As a result of IIRIRA’s draconian mandatory detention provisions, the government needlessly incarcerates thousands of immigrants every year to the tune of $122 per person per day.”

Local advocates noted that ICE recently opened a new detention center in Karnes County, Texas. The facility is operated by GEO Group, a troubled private prison company that has had several contracts in Texas canceled after allegations of abuse and neglect. “While ICE has denied knowledge of problems at the GEO Group’s facilities, the company has a long and very public track record of lawsuits, mismanagement allegations, and canceled contracts at its Texas prisons and detention centers,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. “ICE should halt any new detention centers and work to prioritize release and community support programs that don’t require detention.”

The coalition of central Texas organizations includes the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) – San Antonio, Grassroots Leadership, Immigration Task Force of Mission Presbytery, PODER, Texans United for Families, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas Jail Project, and University Leadership Initiative.

The Detention Watch Network is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to educate the public and policy makers about the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for humane reform.

  • Bob Libal, Grassroots Leadership, , (512) 971-0487
  • Rev. Kelly Allen, Immigration Task force of Mission Presbytery, (210) 844-1686