We Must Protect the Rights of Immigrant Detainees—Not Strip Them Away

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June 21, 2013

Ours is a nation “with liberty and justice for all.” Yet, a proposed amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently working its way through the Senate would add an asterisk—based on a person’s immigration status.

Today, thousands of immigration detainees are languishing in prison-like facilities as they wait for hearings that will determine whether they may remain in this country. This long-term process keeps families apart, costs taxpayers about $2 billion each year, and threatens the due process rights of detainees.

For LGBT and HIV-affected immigrants, prolonged detention can mean a host of problems, including physical and sexual abuse, incorrect placement in a single-gender prison, inmate segregation, and denial of lifesaving medical care.  

Any serious immigration reform bill must improve this situation by protecting the constitutional rights of immigrants held in detention. That is why a pending amendment to the reform bill is so troubling.

Amendment 1203, authored by Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, would allow the United States to hold immigrants indefinitely—potentially for their entire lives—if they cannot be deported because their home country refuses to take them back. They would be confined without the right to stand before a judge and challenge whether they should be detained at all. The amendment would also prevent judges from using humane and cost-saving alternatives to detention, such as monitoring and weekly check-ins, which would keep families together and reduce the risk of harm to LGBT and HIV-affected immigrants.

Amendment 1203 denies immigrant detainees the basic due process of a bond hearing and unnecessarily harms individuals who pose no risk to public safety.

Take Melinda Ruiz, a 52-year-old grandmother who was detained for seven months before winning her immigration case. That was seven months that she was kept from caring for her U.S. citizen mother with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as her 17- and 11-year-old daughters and 5-year-old granddaughter. Or take Alejandro Rodriguez, who was brought to the U.S. before he was even a year old and was later detained for nearly three years without a bond hearing.

If Amendment 1203 were to become law, stories like those of Ruiz and Alejandro will only become more common.

We can—and we must—do better. Lambda Legal embraces the richness, strength and diversity that immigrants—documented or undocumented—bring to our country and to the LGBT and HIV-affected communities. We will continue to work to protect the rights of LGBT people in immigration detention facilities. But as we all work to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, we cannot permit dangerous amendments to limit the rights of detainees, taking us farther away from the progress we so desperately need.