The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act
The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act (H.R. 933) is a bill that would stop the worst abuses that occur in the immigration detention system. Each night, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) holds tens of thousands of immigrants in a patchwork network of jails, prisons, and detention centers around the country. Inmates include asylum seekers, survivors of domestic violence and torture, and people with severe physical and mental illnesses. The health and well-being of these vulnerable immigrants suffers due to inadequate resources to address their needs and inappropriately harsh, punitive treatment in detention centers.
Improvements in Medical Care
The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act would protect the health of detained immigrants by ensuring that the care they receive meets high quality and ethical standards, and is subject to rigorous, independent oversight. It would require all facilities to maintain accreditation by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations. Common-sense procedures to guarantee good medical decision-making would become standard practice in the detention system: for example, the medical and mental health screenings which are, at present, sometimes performed by immigration enforcement officers would become the exclusive domain of trained health professionals. Strong informed consent protections in the Act would safeguard against troubling incidents that have occurred in the past, like administration of involuntary psychotropic medication to non-dangerous detainees with no history of mental illness.
Prevention of Sexual Assault
Because of fear of deportation, linguistic and cultural barriers, and personal histories of victimization, immigrants are at heightened risk for sexual abuse in detention, and are less likely than other incarcerated persons to report incidents of abuse to facility staff. In spite of this, the Department of Justice recently indicated that the preventive and responsive measures set forth in the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003 are not required of immigration detention centers. The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act would step into this void and direct detention facilities to follow PREA, and to provide comprehensive counseling and medical services to immigrant victims of abuse.
Recognition of Immigrants’ Humanity and Dignity
The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act would make a strong statement in support of the right of detainees to be treated with basic dignity. It would require DHS to write new laws preventing cruel and degrading treatment of detainees, and placing strict limitations on the use of shackling and handcuffing, tasers, restraint chairs, solitary confinement, and similar control techniques.
The Act would also
- Guarantee that detainees can effectively file grievances and are not retaliated against for expressing their concerns;
- Protect detainees’ access to the people and resources they need to manage their immigration cases; and
- Create a strong preference for releasing particularly vulnerable immigrants into community monitoring programs rather than incarcerating them in prison-like detention centers.
The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act amassed 66 co-sponsors during the Congressional session that ended in December 2010 but has only been endorsed by three lawmakers thus far in the current session: Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, and Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts. Please ask your Representative to join these three in standing up for basic fairness and decent conditions in immigration detention!