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Rep. Lamar Smith Moves Bill That Could Lead to Indefinite Detention for Immigrants

by Mahwish Khan on 07/15/2011 at 10:22am

lamar smithYesterday, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), one of the most extreme anti-immigrant voices in Congress, succeeded in getting an egregious and probably unconstitutional detention bill out of the House Judiciary Committee, which Rep. Smith chairs. American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) press release provides an explanation of the bill and yesterday’s vote in the Judiciary Committee:

The House Judiciary Committee (HJC) today voted out of committee a costly and unconstitutional bill that would authorize the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to detain thousands of immigrants, potentially indefinitely, without due process. The HJC democrats offered many amendments in an attempt to make the indefinite detention bill constitutional. Under the provisions of the bill, called the “Keep Our Communities Safe Act,” many detainees would be deprived of bond hearings before an immigration judge, which are a basic component of justice in the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union strongly opposes this bill, H.R. 1932, because it violates both the Constitution and Supreme Court rulings protecting the rights of immigrants against indefinite detention.

Though the bill’s author Lamar Smith (R-TX) asserts it will protect people from “dangerous criminal immigrants,” the legislation would in fact lead to the detention of thousands more immigrants for years without first having a hearing before a judge. Some would be subjected to prolonged detention under the bill without ever having been charged with a crime and, in some instances, even after having won their cases before an immigration judge. Worsening a broken immigration detention system that costs $1.9 billion a year, the legislation would lock up lawful permanent residents, victims of persecution and torture, parents of U.S. citizen children and other upstanding members of our communities who have jobs, houses, businesses and significant American roots. The bill would also enormously expand DHS’s program of detaining indefinitely immigrants whom the government cannot deport to their countries of origin because of diplomatic problems, leading to potentially lifelong detention without the federal court oversight that our Constitution requires.

Rep. Smith led the charge on this legislation, just as he’s the prime mover behind the flawed E-Verify bill and the audaciously hypocritical HALT Act.

In a post at Politico, ACLU’s Washington Director Laura Murphy explained the dangers of the legislation:

The Supreme Court has also ruled that noncriminal detention, more generally, is only valid when there are strong procedural protections that prevent unnecessary deprivations of liberty.

These cases make clear that the Due Process Clause of the Constitution protects all “persons” — regardless of immigration status.

Despite these constitutional protections, this law could subject two particularly vulnerable groups to prolonged, and potentially indefinite, detention. Arriving asylum seekers and long-term lawful residents reentering the country could be detained by the Department of Homeland Security while they contest their removability — without any opportunity to challenge their detention in a proceeding before a neutral decision-maker.

For individuals who cannot be removed to their country of origin, H.R.1932 could mean indefinite imprisonment, lacking essential independent judicial oversight. Criminal offenses are serious matters, but people who have paid their debt to society for old crimes as minor as passing a bad check or petty theft could face detention for the rest of their lives.

If this bill is enacted, immigrants face lifetime imprisonment not because of their own actions, but because the U.S. lacks diplomatic relations with their home countries.

It could also subject some of our society’s most vulnerable to the equivalent of life imprisonment without parole, at great cost to taxpayers — without proportionate benefits to public safety.That’s bad policy which must not become law.

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