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Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34) Introduces Legislation to Ensure the Humane Treatment of Immigration Detainees

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34) Introduces Legislation to Ensure the Humane Treatment of Immigration Detainees

(February 26, 2009) Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34) introduced the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act of 2009 (HR 1215) today to better ensure immigrant detainees receive fair and humane treatment while in detention.
“The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act will ensure that the Department of Homeland Security does not ignore its own detention standards.  This bill gives these regulations the force of law, bringing accountability to a system in desperate need of better oversight,” Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34) said.  “Final passage of my legislation would help to ensure that detainees, especially unaccompanied children, are treated humanely, receive access to legal representation and obtain needed medical care.”  
In 2008, the federal government revised its immigration detention standards, but they are still not legally enforceable or consistently implemented.  As a result, thousands of detainees have been subjected to inhumane conditions. The ACLU and other advocacy organizations have received countless complaints regarding deplorable medical care, phones that don’t work, and abuse at detention facilities.

Joanne Lin, ACLU legislative counsel, commended Congresswoman Roybal-Allard for introducing her bill, saying, "Unfortunately, the federal government has failed to exercise meaningful oversight of immigration detention facilities nationwide. The ACLU regularly receives complaints from immigration detainees whose cries for medical care go unanswered.  All too often, the ACLU learns of detainees who have died from both serious diseases such as cancer and mundane conditions such as bacterial infections when earlier intervention could have made a difference.  Congresswoman Roybal-Allard’s bill is necessary to introduce oversight and transparency into the immigration detention system.”
In response to these concerns, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard said she was encouraged by a January 30, 2009 directive issued by the new Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, calling for an internal review by the Department of Homeland Security of its immigration detention standards.  “I hope that this review will shine a light on the pervasive problems at these facilities and ultimately lead the Department to take action to correct them,” Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard said.  
The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act would also increase the use of alternatives to detention for individuals who are not considered a flight risk or pose a threat to public safety.  
Reverend Richard Graham, a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, applauded the legislation.  “Every day families with young children and asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their own countries are locked up in the United States.  Our government’s use of detention on such vulnerable groups takes us down a path that undermines not only the dignity of those we detain but also our country’s core values.”  
Through the congresswoman’s legislation, these detainees would be placed in a proven program of supervised release—a more humane option than incarceration and one that could potentially save millions of tax dollars.  
“With the skyrocketing increase in detention of non-citizens—annually exceeding 300,000 persons—the American taxpayer is shouldering nearly $2 billion per year to house detainees.  This is an exorbitant cost, especially when you consider that most of them pose no threat to the community or public safety. These vulnerable populations, including asylum seekers, torture victims, families, pregnant women, and the elderly, can be released using secure, proven methods of supervision that come at a fraction of the cost of incarceration,” Congresswoman Roybal-Allard said.  
In sum, the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act would do the following:

  • Establish legally enforceable detention condition standards such as access to phones and medical care;
  • Ensure that detainees receive appropriate medical care, and create safeguards against forcible drugging;
  • Facilitate speedy transfers of children to better equipped shelter facilities and increase training for immigration officers who work with unaccompanied youth; and
  • For those detainees who are not a flight risk, promote community-based “alternatives to detention” programs that are cost-effective and successful.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard continued:  “Because the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act introduces sensible reforms to correct the many failings of immigrant detention in this country, the measure has garnered broad-based support.  More than 100 faith, human rights, civil liberties, immigrant and community organizations have signed a letter endorsing my bill.  I would like to specifically thank the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the National Immigrant Justice Center for the important role they played in formulating this legislation and for the tireless work they do every day on behalf of immigrant detainees."


Helen Machado
Communications Director
U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34)
2330 Rayburn HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515
ph (202) 225-1766
fax (202) 226-0350
Visit <>  to sign up for periodic e-mail updates from the congresswoman.
The multicultural 34th Congressional District includes: Bell; Bellflower; Bell Gardens; Boyle Heights; Commerce; Cudahy; Downey; Downtown Los Angeles; Huntington Park; Little Tokyo; Maywood; South Park; Vernon; Walnut Park; and portions of Chinatown, East Los Angeles, Florence, Pico Union, and Westlake.


February 26, 2009
RE: Support for the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act of 2009
Dear Member of Congress:
We, the undersigned faith, human rights, civil liberties, refugee and immigrant, and
community organizations urge you to support the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act
of 2009, sponsored by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA). This bill would
implement critically needed reforms to our failing immigration detention system and
reclaim America’s standing as a welcoming and just nation that accords everyone dignity
and respect.
In recent years, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has dramatically increased
the use of punitive enforcement measures, including jail-like detention, against noncitizens.
In 2008, more than 300,000 people were placed in detention, and on any given
day over 30,000 people were locked up. The federal government’s efforts to apprehend,
detain and deport non-citizens is sowing fear in our communities and tearing families
apart. Many who are detained pose no threat to the community or public safety, and they
include vulnerable populations such as asylum seekers, torture survivors, children,
pregnant women, families with minor children and the elderly.
The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act of 2009 could not have come at a more
critical time. In 2008, 60 Minutes, The Washington Post and The New York Times
reported on the substandard medical care in immigration detention facilities. More reports
of deaths in detention and poor practices came out this year. Indeed at least 80 people
died while in DHS detention during a 5-year period beginning in 2003. Some of those
deaths, such as the case of Francisco Castaneda who died of cancer after his pleas for
medical care went ignored for months, likely could have been prevented if adequate
treatment were provided. Audits conducted in 2007 by DHS’s Inspector General and the
Government Accountability Office revealed that DHS’s system for monitoring detention
conditions is deficient. Additionally, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International
Religious Freedom found, in a study requested by Congress, that U.S. asylum seekers are
detained under “inappropriate” and “jail-like conditions.”
Our nation should provide safe and humane detention conditions for anyone detained, and
this bill accomplishes that by requiring the government to implement clear and
enforceable standards. Specifically, the legislation would improve detainees’ access to
telephones and medical care, including treatment for sexual abuse survivors. Proper
mental health care is even more critical for those who have suffered persecution, torture
and other trauma, and are at grave risk while in confinement.
The federal government’s increased use of immigration detention costs taxpayers nearly
$2 billion per year. In response to these escalating costs, the Immigration Oversight and
Fairness Act of 2009 would promote alternatives to detention programs that would enable
Support for the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act Page 2 of 5
vulnerable detainees and others to be released into the community on their own
recognizance, bond, or through non-custodial supervision programs that are more humane
and cost a fraction of the price of incarceration. The bill would save taxpayers millions of
dollars and allow men and women to return to their families and communities while they
go through the immigration processing system.
Lastly, the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act of 2009 provides protections for
unaccompanied children who are taken into DHS custody and endure horrible conditions
at stations along the border. Internal DHS protocols state that children should have access
to food and water as well as appropriate shelter while in DHS custody. Despite these
guidelines, a disturbing number of children report dehumanizing treatment, inadequate
food and bedding, lack of emergency medical care and deprivations of basic due process.
This bill would improve general protections for this vulnerable group, enhance training for
DHS officials to ensure they treat children properly and facilitate the speedy transfer of
children to better-equipped shelter facilities.
We urge you to support this legislation to restore this nation’s commitment to
humanitarian values, due process, civil liberties and human rights, to ensure immigrant
detainees are treated humanely, to expand the use of community-based alternatives to
detention and other release options, and to protect vulnerable children. The federal
government’s skyrocketing use of detention is having a devastating impact on our
children, families and communities and is undermining this country’s commitment to
provide refuge to victims of persecution. The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act of
2009 makes great strides in improving this faltering detention system.
The Advocates for Human Rights
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
American Humane Association
American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)
American Jewish Committee
Asian American Justice Center (AAJC)
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Chaldean Federation of America
Church World Service, Immigration and Refugee Program
Coalition for Irish Immigration Centers
The Episcopal Church
Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc.
Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
General Commission on Religion and Race, United Methodist Church
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)
Human Rights First
Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC)
Immigration Equality
Irish Apostolate USA
Support for the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act Page 3 of 5
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Leadership Council on Civil Rights
League of United National Latin American Citizens
Legal Momentum
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS)
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Muslim Advocates
National Council on La Raza (NCLR)
National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)
National Immigration Forum
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Law Center
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
National Network for Arab American Communities
National Organization for Women
Rights Working Group
Sikh Council on Religion and Education
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
General Commission on Religion and Race, United Methodist Church
Women’s Refugee Commission
World Organization for Human Rights
The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project
Border Region
Border Network for Human Rights
All Saints Episcopal Church-Pasadena, Immigration Task Force
Asian Law Alliance
Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California
California Church IMPACT
Central American Resource Center, Los Angeles
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)
Korean Resource Center (KRC), Los Angeles, CA
L.A. Community Legal Center and Educational
Lutheran Office of Public Policy – California
Marin Interfaith Worker Justice
Progressive Jewish Alliance, California
Public Counsel
Support for the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act Page 4 of 5
Honduran Unity-Unidad Hondurena
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC)
Latinos for Education & Justice Org., Inc.
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Korean American Resource & Cultural Center (KRCC), Chicago, IL
Lutheran Social Services of Illinois and Lutheran Advocacy—Illinois
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA)
Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services
El Pueblo
Justice and Advocacy Ministries, ELCA-NE
New Jersey
First Friends
International Institute of New Jersey
Ironbound Community Corporation
Grupo Cajola en Morristown, NJ
Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in New Jersey
Mujeres Unidas por Nuestros Derechos MUND (Women United for our Rights)
New Jersey Immigrant Policy Network
Pax Christi NJ
Statewide Parent Advocacy Network of NJ
New Mexico
Immaculate Conception Church
Jesuit Community of Immaculate Conception Church
Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-New Mexico
New York
Arab American Family Support Center
Journey's End Refugee Services Inc
Judson Memorial Church, New York City
Long Island Immigrant Alliance
Support for the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act Page 5 of 5



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