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3/5: Detention Watch Network Principle Sign-On Letter to the Congress
Released 21 March 2007  By Detention Watch Network

3/5: Detention Watch Network Principle Sign-On Letter to the Congress

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are writing to seek your commitment to supporting the passage of fair and humane immigration reform legislation. The current system of immigrant detention and deportation results in the separation of tens of thousands of American families every year, at enormous and unjustifiable costs. As organizations and individuals who work with communities experiencing these devastating consequences, we are concerned about any proposals in upcoming legislation that would expand rather than fix this broken system.

To that end, we hope that you will support immigration reform legislation that builds upon the history of the United States as a nation of immigrants and refugees and affirms American values of fairness, equality, and individual rights. Specifically, we ask you to support immigration reform legislation that upholds the following principles:

- An end to mandatory and unjust detention and support for fair alternatives to detention: Immigration reform legislation must provide for alternatives to detention. Such reforms include community-based alternatives to detention and fair release policies through parole and bond. There should be an end to mandatory detention. All immigrants should have the right to an individualized hearing in front of an independent judge to determine whether they can be released to the community. Any detention that does occur should be for the least amount of time and in the least restrictive setting possible.

- Conditions of detention that are humane and respectful, not punitive: Immigration reform legislation should ensure safe and humane detention conditions and the fair, dignified, respectful treatment of detained individuals. Prison facilities and jails should never be used for immigrant detention. People in detention must have the right to access legal, social, health, spiritual and other supportive services. Standards for detention conditions and treatment must be incorporated into regulations and must apply universally to all facilities in which immigrants are detained. Immigration reform legislation should provide for the creation of an independent, high-level civilian task force to oversee detention conditions and standards in all detention facilities.

- An immigration system that reflects due process of law and international norms of human rights: Immigration reform legislation must reflect due process of law and international human rights standards, including reforms that strengthen the rights of children, families, refugees and others, as well as the right of every individual to a fair day in court. This includes the right to a full and fair hearing, the right to an attorney, and the right to have full federal court review of agency determinations. These rights are undermined by the use and expansion of mandatory detention, indefinite detention, expedited removal, criminal and non-criminal grounds of deportation and bars to discretionary relief and court review. Immigration reform legislation should not replicate or expand the unjust policies of recent years, but instead return to the individualized, rights-based system that had been the cornerstone of our justice system for most of American history.

- An end to discriminatory immigration enforcement: Immigration laws must be consistently and equitably enforced in ways that respect and value immigrants and immigrant communities. Immigration reform legislation must not include or permit the selective enforcement of the laws based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or gender, as well as speech or beliefs.

- An end to the criminalization of immigrants and refugees: Immigrants and refugees must be disentangled from the paradigm of national security and the framework of criminal justice. National security concerns should not be used as a blanket justification for detaining and deporting individuals. Criminal justice concerns should not be used to justify the mandatory detention and deportation of individuals who have already accounted for their past mistakes. Immigration violations should not be turned into criminal offenses. Local law enforcement agencies should not be given the power to make immigration arrests. Immigration reform legislation should ensure that immigration law and enforcement serve an appropriate, sensible, narrowly-tailored role in our system of laws.

By upholding these principles, Congress can provide meaningful and long-overdue reforms to our unjust detention and deportation system. As comprehensive immigration reform legislation is drafted in the months ahead, we look forward to working with your offices to make sure the rights and opportunities of all immigrants are guaranteed.

Detention Watch Network, a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to educate the public, media and policy makers about the United States immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for humane reform.

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