By VICTORIA MIDDLETON | Posted: Friday, September 16, 2011
A bill recently introduced in Congress by the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) would strip immigrants of any opportunity to challenge their detention in front of a judge while doing nothing to address the serious issues of delay and lack of resources that already plague the U.S. immigration (court) system. The new bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to detain a large swath of immigrants, most of whom have no criminal history at all.
Rep. Smith claims that the bill, H.R.1932, will protect people from “dangerous criminals,” but it could lead to the detention of many other immigrants, including some lawful permanent residents. Productive members of our communities could be incarcerated with no opportunity to challenge their detention.
The immigration detention system is already overcrowded and costly. The system holds more than 33,000 individuals on average each day, at a cost of $1.9 billion a year. The cost to taxpayers is $45,000 per detainee per year and would increase if this bill is passed.
Those in immigration custody are not appointed attorneys and often have a hard time arranging representation; an estimated 84 percent of those detained do not have lawyers. Roughly half the people now in immigration detention have never been convicted of any crime.
This law could be more than unnecessary – it could be unconstitutional.