On the fifteenth anniversary of the immigration law, advocates call for the repeal of mandatory detention. The Detention Watch Network launched its “Dignity, Not Detention” campaign, calling on Congress to repeal the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which mandates the detention of undocumented immigrants, which was signed by President Clinton exactly fifteen years ago. Andrea Black, executive director of the Detention Watch Network, said during a conference call that mandatory detention has torn apart families and violated due process. “This law, in tandem with another law enacted earlier in 1996, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, completely changed the way the U.S. deals with immigration,” Black said. “A major component of the 1996 law was the expanded scope of mandatory detention, a practice which imprisons people without any consideration of whether detention is necessary or appropriate.” Under the Illegal Immigration Reform Act any non-citizen can be detained and be subject to mandatory detention, including legal permanent residents and asylum seekers. According to Detention Watch Network ‘s Silky Shah, mandatory detention can also be applied to non-citizens convicted of a crime regardless of the seriousness of the crime. Unlike the criminal justice system there is no definite release date for immigrant detainees since they have no right to a bond hearing. In 2010 alone, 363,000 people were detained and “at least 60% were subject to mandatory detention according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This has increased human rights abuses that have led to over 120 deaths in detention since 2003. In 2009, ICE stated it wanted to reform the system to reduce abuses yet have not done anything to curb this problem. Instead, this year they have announced plans to build seven new detention centers-which will no doubt increase the number of people being detained. Kathy Bird of the Florida Immigrant Coalition said, that “mandatory detention and Secure Communities are some of the main reasons for the alarming increase of detention over the last few years.” According to Ms. Bird, in Florida the ICE agency has selected the town of Southwest Ranches and the company Corrections Corporations of America (known as CCA) “to build one of the largest immigrant detention centers in the U.S.” Ms. Bird said the construction project is inconsistent with recently announced changes in deportation priorities by the Obama administration, highlighting the fact that a decrease in detention and deportation of low-priority cases has not panned out as it should have under the new directive. It appears that for this new detention center CCA is a major ICE contractor and will earn $89 million a year in tax dollars while the city of Southwest Ranches will have to pay $150,000 a year to CCA for the opportunity to make a commission on each person that is detained. If one does not see this as a sign of a dirty business that takes advantage of the disenfranchised, then you have lived life completely oblivious to your surroundings and need to wake up and see what’s right. Clearly this is a system that is in dire need of reform and repealing mandatory detention is a right start. If not now, when will this reform come to bring about actual change we can count on?
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