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Despite House's Vote on Detention Bed Quota, Momentum Grows to Rethink Immigration Detention

Jun 7, 2013
In The News

Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center thanks those members of the U.S. House of Representatives who spoke out this week to end the wasteful and harmful immigration detention bed quota. While an amendment co-sponsored by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) did not garner enough votes to eliminate the mandate from the House’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill, it is clear that the movement to reform the inhumane immigration detention system is gaining momentum on both sides of the political aisle.

The Deutch-Foster amendment would have removed a provision from the DHS bill which requires the government to fill 34,000 immigration detention beds each night. Among the 190 members who voted for the amendment were eight Republicans who saw past partisan lines and understood this as a commonsense measure.

Before the vote, several representatives spoke powerfully against the detention bed quota. Rep. Deutch called it a “fiscally unsustainable mandate” that prevents DHS from making custody decisions based on public safety concerns, while Rep Foster highlighted that both immigrant families and taxpayers pay a high cost to maintain the quota.

Other members of the Illinois delegation led on the issue:

  • Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) said, “In a budget age where many celebrate the harmful cuts of the sequester, it seems we've come to accept indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts that fall on the backs of the most vulnerable among us. But it doesn't have to be that way.”
  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) gave one of the strongest speeches for detention reform yet on the House floor: “To say that 34,000 beds have to be filled no matter what is so un-American,” she said. She went on explain that about half of the people currently detained in the system have no criminal record, and an additional 20 percent have only traffic violations. As she explained, “detaining large numbers of immigrants with no criminal backgrounds does not make us safer and is not necessary to enforce immigration laws.”

Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Jared Polis (D-CO) also spoke in support of the amendment.

While the Deutch-Foster amendment loss is disappointing, congressional support for detention reforms remains high. The Senate immigration bill, expected to move to the floor next week, contains numerous provisions to expand alternatives to detention programs, improve access to counsel for detained immigrants, and increase oversight of DHS.