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End the Immigrant Detention Quota

What if Congress told jails that they had to fill an arbitrary number of cells each night without regard to actual crime rates or threats to public safety? Just fill the beds and don't worry about human rights or due process. That seems unimaginable. Yet that is precisely what Congress is asking of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by ordering the the agency maintain and fill 34,000 immigrant detention beds a day. American taxpayers will spend $2 billion next year to detain 34,000 immigrants a day in detention centers. This number—34,000—is completely arbitrary yet it has mandated by Congress and ICE therefore complies with it,  even though it does not reflect the agency’s needs. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has asked for less funding for detention beds in recent years but Congress has repeatedly ignored their requests. So ICE has 34,000 beds to fill a day and fill them it does.

Not only is this congressionally mandated quota expensive and arbitrary, but it’s a violation of an immigrant’s right to due process. According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), thousands of immigrants who are in prolonged detention have not had the opportunity to appear before a judge to request release or a bond. Due process applies to citizens and non-citizens alike and the Supreme Court has ruled that prolonged detention without review by a judge is unconstitutional.

Today, President Obama is delivering the Keynote Address at the Civil Rights Summit in Austin, Texas to commemorate the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and President Lyndon Johnson’s legacy. While we celebrate the progress our country has made in the last 50 years, we should be inspired by the activists of the 1950s and 1960s and strive to end the unjust policies and practices of our time. Yesterday Barbara Hines, a professor at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, called on Congress to end the Immigrant Bed Quota and we agree. This needs to end.

Read Barbara Hines’s piece here. More information about the Bed Quota can be found on AILA’s website.