- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
- The house has not voted
Border Security, Facilitation, and OperationsCommittee on the JudiciaryImmigration and CitizenshipIntroducedMay 20th, 2019
- house Committees
What is House Bill H.R. 2842?
Cost of House Bill H.R. 2842
In-Depth: Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) introduced this bill in response to multiple instances of ICE and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) blocking members of Congress from entering detention facilities to conduct oversight. This bill would require Congressional access to ICE detention facilities:
"When my office learned of poor conditions and health issues at an ICE detention center in Aurora, we immediately sought access to the facility to conduct oversight. We were denied access not once but three times. Since then, we learned of infectious disease outbreaks and conditions. The agency’s lack of transparency and accountability put the health of the public and detainees at risk. We're seeing similar situations occur across the country fueled by ICE's culture of secrecy. I'm proud to introduce the POD Act which will allow members of Congress to conduct the oversight that this administration refuses to do and introduce transparency into a broken system. People are dying and we can't wait a moment longer."
At a press conference outside an Aurora, Colorado detention facility that he was denied access to earlier this year, Rep. Crow added, “I believe that government works best when the public has access to information about what it’s doing with taxpayer money. This is a commonsense bill. It’s about transparency, it’s about community and making sure we know what government is doing.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) argues that it’s “imperative” that members of Congress be allowed to enter detention facilities to oversee their management:
“There is no greater responsibility than the care of the children in custody. Just this week another child died in CPB custody, adding for a total of 4 just this year. Even one is one too many. That’s why Congress’s authority to monitor and oversee Executive Branch activity is one of the most important constitutional duties assigned to the Legislative Branch. If our representatives are unable to properly engage with DHS or HHS detention centers to determine whether our laws are being faithfully carried out, our Constitution ceases to operate as it was originally intended. It is imperative that all members of Congress are allowed timely entry into detention centers that house immigrants and migrant children in order to ensure the safety and well-being of these families.”
The National Immigrant Justice Center is among a number of organizations that support this bill. Haddy Gassama, a Detention Oversight Fellow at the organization, says:
"The longer we allow ICE and CBP to run their facilities in the dark, the more we perpetuate the rights abuses that exist in these jails. Uninhibited access into all immigration detention facilities for Members of Congress is an essential step in holding ICE and CBP accountable for the conditions of their facilities and their treatment of detained immigrants.”
In a statement, Nicole Melaku, executive director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, added that Congressional oversight with a minimal notification period will help ensure better accountability at detention centers across the country.
This bill has nine Democratic cosponsors. Rep. Crow is currently in the process of seeking a Republican cosponsor. He contends that since there are ICE detention centers in both Democratic and Republican Congressional districts, this issue should transcend politics.
This bill is endorsed by Project on Government Oversight, UnidosUS, National Council of Jewish Women, Inc., Church World Service, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), National Immigrant Justice Center, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Colorado People’s Alliance (COPA), Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Village Exchange Center, Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN), and ECDC African Community Center.
Of Note: Congressional visits to ICE detention centers have historically taken weeks to organize, and some legislators, including Rep. Crow, then-Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have been denied access altogether. In February 2019, Rep. Crow was denied access to an adult immigration detention facility in Aurora, Colorado after he asked for a walkthrough to learn more about the health care resources available to address a chickenpox outbreak among the facility’s 1,500-plus detainees as well as reported mumps cases. Ultimately, Rep. Crow was only given a tour of the facility three weeks after his initial visit request.
In addition to Congressional oversight, there is also a little-known policy, called “stakeholder procedures,” established in 2011, allowing the public to monitor conditions in ICE detention centers. This “Access Directive” outlines a process by which individuals or groups can tour ICE facilities if they send a request to the overseeing ICE field officer, along with several proposed dates, at least two weeks in advance. However, in March 2017, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), told Rewire News that ICE had rejected six of its requests for access over a two-month period. It, along with the ACLU and over 400 groups and individuals, wrote a letter to ICE in March 2017 urging the agency to ensure public access to and oversight of immigrant detention.
In response to CIVIC’s letter, ICE’s Acting Director, Thomas Homan, said the agency “appreciates the work of CIVIC and other community-based visitation programs” and has a “strong desire” to continue to facilitate their access to immigration detention facilities.
Nationally, there are over 200 immigrant detention facilities, with a record-high 49,000 beds. Allegations of overcrowding, poor conditions, human rights violations, inadequate health services, usage of slave labor and abuse of solitary confinement have been levied against many of these facilities by advocates, detainees, and human rights watchdog groups.
Currently, inspections of ICE jails are conducted by a private company, Nakamoto Group, as well as ICE’s Office of Detention Oversight (ODO), neither of which investigates all of the country’s ICE facilities in any given year. On average, Nakamoto inspects an average of 100 facilities each year and ODO inspected an average of 28 facilities in fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2017. In addition to these inspections, there’s supposed to be a “continuous” monitoring program, but that also doesn’t occur at every ICE facility.
In June 2018, the DHS OIG released a report calling ICE detention centers profoundly dangerous places with few safeguards to protect detainees’ rights. The report further detailed how ICE inspections and monitoring of immigrant detention facilities fail on multiple levels.
- Sponsoring Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) Press Release
- VICE News
- Aurora Sentinel
- CBS 4 Local
- Seattle University School of Law International Human Rights Clinic Report in Collaboration with OneAmerica (Context)
- Human Rights Watch Report (Context)
- Project on Government Oversight (POGO) Report (Context)
- Santa Monica Daily Press (Context)
- KJCT 8 ABC (Context)
- WBUR (Context)
- DHS OIG Report (Context)
- ACLU (Context)
- The Intercept (Context)
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: Customs and Border Protection / Public Domain)