WASHINGTON – Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Monday announced he will re-introduce legislation soon to ensure humane treatment of asylum seekers and others detained immigrants.
The Senator has pressed Department of Homeland Security officials to improve the treatment of asylum seekers since the release in 2005 of a Congressionally-mandated report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The report described how victims of oppression were funneled into maximum security detention facilities through faulty policies and procedures.
“While it is being determined whether or not tens of thousands of detained immigrants are entitled to live in the United States, we must ensure that they are housed in safe and humane facilities where they receive appropriate medical care and by funding secure alternatives to detention where possible.”
In 2006 and 2007 Lieberman introduced the Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act as amendments to immigration reform bills, and last June the Senate passed the amendment as part of broader immigration reform legislation but the legislation was never enacted. Lieberman’s attempts over the past year to negotiate with DHS for implementation of administrative reforms have been unsuccessful, as evidenced by recent media stories on unacceptable treatment of immigrant detainees.
The Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act will call for:
• Improving standards for detention conditions, including medical care and access to legal counsel, and requiring special standards for families and for victims of persecution and torture;
• Enhancing alternatives to detention such as supervised release programs, and improving the fairness of the process by which detainees are considered for release on parole;
• Requiring the recording of interviews with detained asylum seekers to ensure they are not erroneously returned to countries where they fear persecution; and
• Establishing an Office of Detention Oversight within the Department of Homeland Security to audit and investigate detention facilities’ compliance with standards and to report to Congress.
The Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act has been supported in the past by a broad coalition of faith-based and asylum and immigration advocacy groups. “This bold legislation is an important step toward restoring basic human rights and ensuring that this country remains one that welcomes the newcomer,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, Director of the National Immigrant Justice Center.