Introducing the DONE Act
On July 23, 2019, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) reintroduced the Detention Oversight Not Expansion (DONE) Act, which Freedom for Immigrants consulted on.
The legislation primarily seeks to put a moratorium on the expansion and construction of immigration detention, specifically for those facilities under the purview of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The bill also:
Requires the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary to submit a report outlining a plan to cut bed capacity in half (from FY18 levels) and implement community-based alternatives to detention
Increases oversight and transparency of detention center operations via mandated and publicly available reporting on detention center conditions, including deaths in custody, incidents of sexual assault, and access to medical care and legal services
Requires DHS to measure inspections against the legally enforceable standards American Bar Association’s Civil Detention Standards.
The bill was first introduced in 2018.
3 Reasons We Need The DONE Act
1) The Growth of Immigration Detention Has Skyrocketed
As Freedom for Immigrants’ new interactive map of ICE-operated immigration detention facilities shows, there are currently over 200 active ICE detention facilities across the country. While these facilities primarily detain adults, several ICE-operated facilities also detain juveniles and families. Since the inception of our modern-day U.S. immigration detention system in the 1980s there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people locked up on a daily basis, from less than 7,000 detained individuals in 1994 to over 52,000 in 2019. The budget for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), which manages the detention system, has swelled over the years and was $4.8 billion in 2018. And yet, under the Trump administration, ICE has routinely overspent its Congressionally allocated budget.
The steady growth of immigration detention throughout both Republican and Democratic administrations has been fueled by a combination of factors. These factors include a significant profit motive from the private prison industry, as approximately 70 percent of people in immigration detention are currently housed in centers owned or operated by for-profit prison companies. Expansion in immigration detention has also stemmed from increasingly punitive laws and measures against immigrants, such as the now infamous 1996 laws that dramatically changed our immigration detention system overnight by making more people subject to detention and deportation and the implementation of minimum detention bed quotas beginning in 2004.
Learn more about the growth of detention by checking out our detention timeline here.
2) Immigration Detention is Rife With Abuse — And There’s Hardly Any Oversight
Freedom for Immigrants, other advocacy organizations, and the Department of Homeland Security’s own Office of the Inspector General have documented serious abuses within ICE detention facilities. These abuses include medical neglect, which has led to preventable deaths, rampant sexual assault, the misuse and overuse of solitary confinement, physical assault, forced labor, spoiled and inedible food, abuse motivates by hate and bias and visitation restrictions.
However, due to the absence of any meaningful oversight or accountability mechanisms, there are little to no consequences for documented abuses, leading to a culture of impunity.
A few key highlights of Freedom for Immigrants’ investigations:
We found that between January 2010 and July 2016, the DHS Office of the Inspector General received over 33,000 complaints of sexual assault or physical abuse against component agencies in DHS. But the Inspector General investigated less than 1 percent of these cases.
The OIG received at least 1,016 reports of sexual abuse filed by people in detention between May 2014 and July 2016, meaning that the OIG received on average more than one complaint of sexual abuse from people in detention per day during this time period. We found that the OIG investigated only 24 of those complaints, or 2.4% of the total.
In May 2017, we co-published a 103-page report with Human Rights Watch called: "Systemic Indifference: Dangerous & Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention."
The report reveals systemic failures, such as unreasonable delays in care and unqualified medical staff, that are likely to expose a record number of people to dangerous conditions under ramped-up deportation and detention plans.
Medical experts agreed that substandard care was evident in 16 out of 18 deaths, and subpar care contributed to the deaths of at least 7 of these individuals.
Since January 20, 2017, when Donald Trump became the President of the United States, Freedom for Immigrants has documented at least 800 complaints of abuse motivated by hate or bias in 34 immigration detention jails and prisons.
We tracked incidents of hate and bias as a result of a person’s perceived race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Each verbal incident we documented was followed by an action that often led to different—and more serious—forms of mistreatment, such as the use of solitary confinement and physical assault.
Of course, we are not the only independent monitors who have found countless human rights violations. Many other advocacy groups have documented a pattern of widespread abuse throughout the years, including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Detention Watch Network, RAICES, and many other national, state and local groups.
Most importantly, the Dept. of Homeland Security’s own Office of the Inspector General has issued reports, especially within the last year, highlighting egregious violations following its unannounced inspections at specific detention facilities.
In its latest report, the OIG states that “inspections of the four detention facilities revealed violations of ICE’s detention standards and raised concerns about the environment in which detainees are held.” The four ICE jails and prisons that the OIG inspected include the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in California, the Aurora ICE Processing Center in Colorado, the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Louisiana and the Essex County Correctional Facility in New Jersey.
In California, the state Attorney General’s first report on detention conditions also gave us an in-depth and independent look into the issues faced by people inside the state’s immigrant jails and prisons. Though these inspections were announced, they found that immigrants face prolonged periods of confinement, significant language barriers, medical and mental health access issues, visitation and communication obstacles, and lack of access to legal representation.
Learn more about our monitoring and investigation reports here.
3) We Need Community-Based Alternatives To Detention
We know solutions exist and we are even helping to model them. Freedom for Immigrants supports a case-management model loosely based on the federal refugee resettlement program, in which migrants reside with community-based sponsors and are matched with social and legal support services as their immigration case is processed.
In addition, we believe that alternatives should truly function as such; as resources for alternatives to detention increase, there should be a corresponding decrease in resources for ICE detention.
The use of alternatives to detention is not a new concept.
In fact, in 2017, the Department of Homeland Security terminated the Family Case Management Program (FCMP), a program that provided case management services to immigrants as an alternative to detention. DHS offered no explanation upon termination of this program, despite the fact that the program achieved a 99% compliance rate with ICE and immigration court requirements and cost $38 per family per day – in comparison to the average cost per person per day of $208 in detention facilities. There were notable concerns with the FCMP – particularly, DHS’ decision to grant the contract for implementing the program to GEO Care, a subsidiary of private prison corporation GEO Group despite the availability of qualified non-profit organizations with strong links to the communities in which the program operated. However, the FCMP proved that humane, effective, and low-cost alternatives to detention exist and are viable solutions.
Learn more about ATDs here and how you can support them by volunteering to sponsor someone in immigration detention.