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Bill Would Provide Oversight of Immigration Detention Centers

The private company GEO Group operates the Northwest Detention Center, an immigration prison in Tacoma, Wash. (Seattle Globalist/Flickr)
The private company GEO Group operates the Northwest Detention Center, an immigration prison in Tacoma, Wash. (Seattle Globalist/Flickr)
May 17, 2018

SEATTLE – Companion bills in Congress aim to increase oversight and put a moratorium on the additional construction of immigration detention centers.

The Detention Oversight Not Expansion (DONE) Act introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is in part a response to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's request to build five new facilities in the Midwest.

Jayapal says detention centers are actually prisons and are inhumane, noting more than 170 people have died in ICE's custody since 2003. She says ICE has a process in place to inspect facilities, but it's ineffective.

"What ICE does is they tell the facilities, 'OK, we're coming to investigate you now,’” she points out. “’We're coming to see if you're meeting the standards.'

“And so you see a giant clean-up, essentially, right before the inspection happens."

The Done Act would require the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General to conduct unannounced inspections.

Jayapal says facilities not in compliance would receive cuts in funding.

DHS received more than 1,400 allegations of sexual assaults between 2012 and 2018.

Jayapal also points to insufficient medical care in facilities, where at least three pregnant women had miscarriages last year.

Jayapal says the bill also would require DHS to cut in half its inmate quota, which is currently 3,400 people per day.

"That is specifically addressing the fact that we think that these quotas are designed to serve no one except the private prison companies, frankly, that make a lot off of detaining people," she states.

Private corporations oversee more than 60 percent of ICE detention beds, according to Grassroots Leadership.

Jayapal says imprisonment should be replaced with alternatives such as supervised release and ankle monitors. She says most of the people in detention aren't safety risks to the community and increasingly include mothers and children.

"Alternatives to detention actually allow for families to stay together as they go through whatever process they need to go through, and almost 100 percent compliance rate with these alternatives," she states.

The DONE Act would dedicate an additional $45 million to federal oversight of detention centers.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA