CHIRLA and a wide range of faith, immigrant rights, and community-based organizations joined Detention Watch Network (DWN) recently to announce the launch of its “Dignity, Not Detention” campaign, calling on Congress to repeal all laws mandating the detention of immigrants.
The announcement marks the 15-year anniversary of the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996, legislation that dramatically increased the number of people subject to mandatory detention. The law requires the government to lock up immigrants, including legal permanent residents who have lived in the U.S. their entire lives and asylum seekers seeking refuge in the U.S., without the right to due process.
“Everyone deserves fair and equal treatment under the law, regardless of their immigration status,” said Silky Shah, Field Organizer for DWN. “But for the past 15 years, mandatory detention has denied countless people the right to a fair day in court, tearing apart families and communities across the country, and fueling the expansion of a broken immigration detention system.”
For the past six months, newlyweds Hope and Nazry Mustakim have suffered the dire consequences of mandatory detention. Nazry, a 31-year-old legal permanent resident from Singapore, has been detained at the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall, Texas since March, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement took Nazry into custody and started deportation proceedings based on a conviction for a felony drug possession committed half a decade ago.
Under IIRIRA, Mustakim’s drug possession charge makes him subject to mandatory detention while he pursues his legal case despite being a legal permanent resident who has since become sober and changed his life completely.
“My husband has been clean and sober for 5 years now and has dedicated his life to helping others recover from addiction,” said Hope Mustakim. “We were only married for 8 months before he was taken away from me. Now I only see him twice a month through the pane glass at the detention center, which is a 260 mile drive from my home. The emotional and financial cost of our separation has been devastating, and it saddens me to know that this is happening to other families caught up in the detention system across the country.”
Since 1996, the immigration detention system has grown rapidly, from 70,000 people detained annually to about 400,000. The US now maintains a sprawling network of detention facilities, comprised of more than 250 federal, state and private prisons and county jails, at an annual cost of $1.7 billion to taxpayers. The expansion of the detention system has been accompanied by increasing levels of abuse, ranging from substandard living conditions to over 120 immigrant deaths since 2003.
“In Florida we’re experiencing the expansion of the immigration detention system firsthand,” says Kathy Bird of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “In Broward County there are plans to build one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country, with capacity for 1,500 beds or even more. We’ve seen the disastrous effects that detention centers have had in other communities around the country, and we’re working with immigration advocates and concerned residents in Broward County to make sure we’re not replicating the problem.”
Through the Dignity, Not Detention campaign, CHIRLA is calling on Congress and the Obama Administration to:
- Repeal all laws mandating the detention of non-citizens.
- Put an end to all policies and programs that use the criminal justice system to target people for detention and deportation.
- Bring the U.S. into compliance with its obligations under international human rights law, which prohibits arbitrary detention.
“If we’re serious about restoring due process to our immigration laws and reducing the human and financial cost of the detention system,” says Shah. “It’s time we put an end to mandatory detention.”