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house Bill H.R. 3551

Should Members of Congress Have Access to Federal Facilities (Like Detention Centers for Migrants)?

Argument in favor

Congressional oversight of immigrant detention centers is needed to ensure that they take adequate care of the detainees in their custody. This is especially important given the allegations of poor conditions and inhumane treatment of detainees at these facilities, and that many detainees are in poor health after an arduous journey across the border.

Susan's Opinion
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08/20/2019
It’s their constitutional duty to do oversight. They must not be blocked from doing it.
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Leah's Opinion
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08/20/2019
Yes. If the government/tax payers are funding it, we need full transparency.
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jimK's Opinion
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08/20/2019
Congressional delegations not only have the right to monitor how taxpayer dollars are being used, they have that responsibility. There are way too many hidden agendas at play in this administration, way too many misdirections and way too many justifications for actions that simply don't match the facts. Since there has been documented human rights abuses at the detention centers, any attempt to block or limit oversight from Congressional delegations should be just as illegal as it is immoral , unethical and indecent. I believe that mistreatment of detainees is in violation of international agreements and laws as well. Suggesting that potential mistreatment could effectively be hidden from the legislators that fund these operations is inconceivable.
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Argument opposed

There are already multiple existing oversight processes for immigrant detention centers through ICE’s Office of Detention Oversight; a private company, Nakamoto Group; and the general public, through a process called “stakeholder procedures.” Plus, 2018 legislation already gave members of Congress the ability to drop in to visit detention centers for children, who are the most vulnerable population in detention facilities.

Gopin2020's Opinion
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08/20/2019
Only with exceptions; no media or cameras of any sort, congressional staff would be okay. But not unescorted to prevent them from coaching these illegals on what to say to asylum personnel. We must prevent the radical Democrats from using these facilities for their agenda. #MAGA
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Tricia 's Opinion
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08/20/2019
No. Stop trying to push all these Bills to keep inciting division in America. It like a feeding frenzy. Try doing things that actually bring people together. Like cleaning up your cities.
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JTJ's Opinion
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08/20/2019
Democrats weren’t interested in the facilities when Obama was running them. They don’t care about migrants, they are only using them as political pawns.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on Oversight and Reform
    IntroducedJune 27th, 2019

What is House Bill H.R. 3551?

This bill — the Restoring Oversight for Members of Congress Act — would ensure members of Congress have access to all federal facilities, including those owned or controlled by the federal government, those under a contract or a lease and those at which operations are carried out under the federal government’s authority. 

There would be an exception for national security reasons. Agencies, in coordination with the committees of jurisdiction, would be able to request to have a facility deemed “restricted” for national security reasons. If a member of Congress seeks access to a restricted facility, the agency and the committees of jurisdiction would work together to establish protocols for granting that member access.

This bill also establishes penalties for those who deny members of Congress access to federal facilities. These penalties would apply to agency heads and any individual or entity that enters a contract or lease with the federal government to operate a federal facility.

Impact

Immigrant detention center detainees; immigrant detention centers; Members of Congress; and Congressional oversight of immigrant detention centers.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 3551

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthRep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress in response to reports detailing horrific conditions for migrant children and families in government care. This bill would allow members of Congress immediate access to federal facilities, including those under contract or lease, and give members of Congress an avenue to report their findings:

“Members of Congress are the eyes and ears of the American people. Their role is to ensure Americans’ tax dollars and will is being executed properly. In its second reintroduction, The Restoring Oversight for Members of Congress Act would provide members of Congress immediate access to these federal facilities at our border, including those under contract, and allow them to report their findings afterwards. Given Congress’ duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch, it’s critical that we can conduct inspections to ensure children already suffering trauma are, at a minimum, safe and taken care of. Though we have yet to change our immigration policies, we have a responsibility to ensure that these conditions are at least humane. No administration should have the power to declare federal, taxpayer-funded facilities off-limits to oversight.”

Senate sponsor Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) says this bill is needed to ensure accountability for the Trump administration’s lack of care for migrants in detention facilities

“Trump and his administration have shown they can’t be trusted to protect and provide for migrant children’s basic needs. We’re talking soap, toothbrushes, food, medical care. The Trump administration is afraid of letting Congress and the American people see the full extent of its cruelty in these detention facilities, so we must force its hand.”

In a joint statement when they introduced this bill in the 115th Congress, Rep. Castro and Sen. Wyden said: 

“Under the Trump Administration’s zero-humanity immigration policy migrant children have been taken from their parents and locked away in federal facilities under spartan conditions. These facilities house vulnerable people, including minors, and it’s critical that Congress ensures the conditions are humane and appropriate, even if the policy is not. Members of Congress are the eyes and ears of the American people. Their role is to ensure Americans’ tax dollars and will is being executed properly. The Restoring Oversight for Members of Congress Act would provide members of Congress immediate access to these federal facilities, including those under contract, and allow them to report their findings afterwards. Given Congress’ Constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch, it’s critical that we can conduct inspections to ensure children already suffering trauma are, at a minimum, safe and treated humanely. No administration should have the power to declare federal, taxpayer-funded facilities off-limits to oversight.”

The Trump administration argues that its policy of detaining unauthorized immigrants — which has led to children’s separation from parents in fenced-in enclosures that some have referred to as “cages” — is a deterrent to illegal immigration. In June 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13 to defend the administration’s “zero tolerance policy.” Sessions said, “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing, and it protects the weak.”

This bill was endorsed by Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), Demand Progress, and Immigration Hub last Congress. In the current Congress, the Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg, Florida has expressed support for this bill.

This bill doesn’t have any House cosponsors in the current Congress. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), has two Senate cosponsors (one Democrat and one Independent). 

Last Congress, this bill had 31 Democratic House cosponsors and didn’t receive a committee vote. The Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Wyden, had three Senate cosponsors (two Democrats and one Independent) and also didn’t receive a committee vote.

Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) has introduced a bill, the Public Oversight of Detention Centers (POD) Act, which would allow members of Congress to gain access to immigrant detention facilities within 48 hours of their request.


Of NoteCongressional 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.

Lawmakers are already allowed to drop in on detention facilities for unaccompanied migrant children. This requirement was established through legislation that Congress passed in 2018.

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.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / wildpixel)

AKA

Restoring Oversight for Members of Congress Act

Official Title

To ensure that Members of Congress have access to Federal facilities in order to exercise their constitutional oversight responsibilities.

    It’s their constitutional duty to do oversight. They must not be blocked from doing it.
    Like (115)
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    Only with exceptions; no media or cameras of any sort, congressional staff would be okay. But not unescorted to prevent them from coaching these illegals on what to say to asylum personnel. We must prevent the radical Democrats from using these facilities for their agenda. #MAGA
    Like (27)
    Follow
    Share
    Yes. If the government/tax payers are funding it, we need full transparency.
    Like (89)
    Follow
    Share
    Congressional delegations not only have the right to monitor how taxpayer dollars are being used, they have that responsibility. There are way too many hidden agendas at play in this administration, way too many misdirections and way too many justifications for actions that simply don't match the facts. Since there has been documented human rights abuses at the detention centers, any attempt to block or limit oversight from Congressional delegations should be just as illegal as it is immoral , unethical and indecent. I believe that mistreatment of detainees is in violation of international agreements and laws as well. Suggesting that potential mistreatment could effectively be hidden from the legislators that fund these operations is inconceivable.
    Like (75)
    Follow
    Share
    It’s a federal facility in which congress leads that federal government. They should be given 24/7 access 365 days a year!
    Like (51)
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    Senate Bill S.3551. Congressional oversight of immigrant detention centers is needed to ensure that they take adequate care of the detainees in their custody. This is especially important given the allegations of poor conditions and inhumane treatment of detainees at these facilities, and that many detainees are in poor health after an arduous journey across the border.
    Like (29)
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    Congress, do your job.
    Like (25)
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    No. Stop trying to push all these Bills to keep inciting division in America. It like a feeding frenzy. Try doing things that actually bring people together. Like cleaning up your cities.
    Like (23)
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    Our federally elected officials should have the right to go and inspect any facility that receives federal funding and that they have the appropriate clearances to view. Likewise our state officials should have the ability to go inspect any facility that have state funding and that they have the appropriate clearances to view. Congress his job is oversight. They must have the ability to do it.
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    Absolutely. This is part of Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch which has been neglected for the last 40+ years! Yes, we must also ensure Congress doesn’t get too cocky, but that’s not the immediate urgent issue! Our government cannot function when one of the three branches has too much power!🇺🇸
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    Members of Congress should always have access to detention facilities and without notice to examine the conditions that immigrant detainees have to live in. Our politicians need to have the access to prevent a humanitarian disaster at the border that’s being encouraged by our criminal President!
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    Yes, but only if they go there to help. I would love to see my useless senators-tillis and burr-clean some toilets and showers for those poor detainees. Moscow Mitch can chip in too
    Like (18)
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    Democrats weren’t interested in the facilities when Obama was running them. They don’t care about migrants, they are only using them as political pawns.
    Like (15)
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    Why this wasn’t already the case boggles my mind - we pay for these detention centers with our tax dollars! The LEAST they can do is make sure that our representatives can visit these places to make sure they’re operating humanely. I don’t think they should even exist and we shouldn’t have corporations turning a profit over detaining people, but this would at least get us the full truth of what these places are like. While we’re on this topic of taxpayers knowing where our money’s going, we should have a full itemized list of what the military industrial complex spends their billions we haphazardly throw at them every year.
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    Their job is OVERSIGHT. This is a part of oversight.
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    Absolutely!!! And they shouldn’t have to give notice before coming. Congress has oversight responsibilities and therefore should have unfettered access to inspect those facilities.
    Like (10)
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    Support Joaquin Castro’s bill to ensure congress can always inspect federal facilities...like immigrant detention centers.
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    They have ALWAYS HAD ACCESS PRIOR TO THIS ADMINISTRATION. I KNOW OF NO LAW THAT RESTRICTS THEM, EXCEPT FOR TRUMP’S LAW, which isn’t really a law. It’s more like a Decree than a law, ‘cause he thinks he’s above the law! DOJ, will you please tell him, he is not, or show me where he gets the authority to make such a law? Our elected officials should have a DUTY to visit these sights. No one should be able to stop them, UNLESS there may be a danger to them, should they do so. I don’t believe that applies here. Get the local police to assist you in gaining entrance to the facility and jail ANYONE that gets in your way. This is more of the Dictator’s bullshit. Last I heard, we weren’t a dictatorship - YET!
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    Hadn’t Congress always had this right? Isn’t it called oversight?
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    Or VA hospitals?
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