Rep. Lamar Smith's Bill Could Mean Indefinite Detention For Immigrants

May 26, 2011 9:31 am ET — Salvatore Colleluori

Earlier this week, the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held a hearing on Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-TX) new attack on immigrants' rights, H.R. 1932, the "Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2011." According to a House Judiciary Committee press release, "This bill will allow DHS to detain dangerous criminal immigrants beyond six months who are under orders of removal but cannot be deported."

According to Ahilan Arulanantham, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California, the bill will open the door to a severe intrusion on the rights the Supreme Court has upheld for certain immigrants:

H.R. 1932 authorizes DHS to indefinitely lock up people who have lost their cases -- potentially for a lifetime -- even in cases when the government cannot deport them (e.g. because the person is stateless, or because we have no repatriation agreement with the home country).

A 2001 Supreme Court ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis held that, barring some extenuating circumstances, immigrants awaiting deportation can't be detained longer than six months. Republicans have long claimed that releasing such individuals constitutes a public safety risk, citing stories of crimes committed by those released after the six-month period.

But Gary Mead, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, testified during the hearing on H.R. 1932 that "Since the beginning of FY 2009, ICE has released 12, 567 individual aliens. ... Of this amount, 868 were re-booked into ICE custody, which is a relatively low re-detention rate of 7 percent." In an attempt to correct this statistically small problem, Smith is willing to attack the due process rights of thousands of immigrants — a move Arulanantham argues is unconstitutional. 

Smith is also willing to leave American citizens with the bill. According to the Detention Watch Network, immigration detentions in 2009 already cost taxpayers an extra $1.7 billion. With Smith's bill, detentions, and ultimately costs, will only increase.

In addition, many of those who would be detained are asylum seekers who do not warrant criminal treatment. As Annie Sovcik of Human Rights First explains, "As a nation committed to the rule of law, the United States must guarantee basic due process protections designed to prevent asylum seekers and other immigrants from being subjected to arbitrary and prolonged detention."