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Amendments that Matter: Enforcement and Detention

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If you think the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of the Gang of 8 bill has been intense so far, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. As the SJC moves into Titles II and III of the bill—which cover everything from E-Verify to detention policy to family immigration to agricultural workers, not to mention the path to citizenship itself—we’re highlighting some of the major areas we expect to see addressed, and the amendments we’re particularly hopeful about or upset by within each one. That’s why we’re starting this “Amendments that Matter” blog series today. First up: enforcement and detention issues, which are part of Title III of the bill (which the SJC will begin to mark up on Thursday).

Also view our list of key amendments filed in the Senate Judiciary Committee to S. 744

When the Gang of 8 talks about how immigration enforcement will look under their bill, they tend to mention 1) border security and 2) mandatory E-Verify. But make no mistake, ICE isn’t going away—much as those of us who’ve been paying attention to the 1100 deportations a day under this Administration might wish that it would. While offering an inclusive path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country should go a long way toward humanizing detention and deportation practices, several amendments being offered by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee would curb some of the most abusive practices ICE has developed over the last several years.

Here are the amendments we’re looking out for:

  • Curbing solitary confinement: The New York Times reported this spring that at any given time, 300 immigrants are being held in solitary confinement in ICE detention—and almost half of those “are isolated for 15 days or more, the point at which psychiatric experts say they are at risk for severe mental harm.” As Bloomberg News wrote in an editorial last month, “Solitary confinement is, by its nature, dehumanizing. It should be a last resort for violent and dangerous criminals. It certainly should have no role in the detention of undocumented immigrants and thousands of other nonviolent prisoners.” Senator Blumenthal’s Amendment 2 would prohibit use of solitary confinement for children and teenagers, restrict it for the mentally ill, and stop ICE from using solitary confinement for “protection” or minor punishment.
  • Protecting immigrant communities from a climate of fear: Senator Blumenthal’s Amendment 8 and Senator Coons’ Amendment 13 limit the circumstances under which ICE can conduct “enforcement actions” like raids or apprehensions at schools, churches, hospitals, and other “sensitive locations.” ICE claims it already has such a policy, but that hasn’t stopped ICE agents in Detroit from repeatedly targeting parents outside elementary schools; clearly an amendment is needed to protect immigrant communities and children from living in fear.
  • Requiring transparency and accountability about detention: Senator Coons’ Amendment 6 would require agencies to collect and share data about detainees, including how long and at what cost each immigrant is being detained. This will help identify immigrants who qualify for alternatives to detention (allowing them to fight their deportations from home, rather than jail), and will require CBP, ICE and other agencies involved in detention to be honest about their practices and costs.
  • Protecting children and families: Senator Franken’s Amendment 7, which is cosponsored by Senator Grassley and others, would allow parents who have been detained to make calls to arrange for the care of their children, and allow them to participate in decisions about their children’s welfare; furthermore, it would require ICE to consider the interests of children when deciding whether to deport their parents. Sen. Franken’s Amendment 8 and Sen. Hirono’s Amendment 22 would protect unaccompanied minors who are caught up in the immigration enforcement system, ensuring they have legal representation (Franken 8) and medical care (Hirono 22).