House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) scheduled a markup on the “Keep Our Communities Safe Act,” a bill that Smith claims will “stop the release of dangerous criminal immigrants into American communities.” The reality, however, is much darker:
To understand the scope of Chairman Smith’s bill, take the example of someone who commits a crime and serves a five-year term. If he’s a U.S. citizen, after his prison sentence, he is released into society. If he’s an immigrant, lawfully in the country or not, the U.S. can move to deport him after his five years in prison.
However, if he is a legal immigrant but from a country such as Cuba, with which the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations, he probably cannot be deported. There are a handful of countries around the world with which the U.S. has such constrained diplomatic relations that deportation is very difficult.
What this bill would do is allow the government to lock that person up indefinitely. All it would take is a written certification every six months from the Homeland Security secretary that the detainee is a risk to the community.
The bill’s critics argue that it is an unconstitutional bill that will lead to foreign nationals who pose no threat to society being detained indefinitely — and there are two Supreme Court decisions that strongly suggest they are right about the bill’s unconstitutionality. According to Antonio Ginatta of Human Rights Watch:
[A] person who completes his sentence is suddenly subject to a lifetime in detention based purely on the unilateral and unappealable decision of an administration appointee. It gives that official full authority to subject someone to incarceration well beyond the criminal sentence imposed by the judge or jury. [...] This bill gives the president imperial power over the judiciary and the legislature when it comes to locking up immigrants.
Human Rights First also notes that the bill “contains several provisions that have nothing to do with dangerousness or safety assessments or even flight risk.” In fact, it will likely lead to the indefinite incarceration of “asylum seekers fleeing religious, political and other forms of persecution and seeking protection in the United States – who do not warrant that description and whose detention is unconnected to community safety.” The organizations also claims that since 2003, “immigration authorities have spent more than $300 million of taxpayer dollars detaining thousands of asylum seekers in jails and jail-like facilities under a system that lacks basic due process safeguards.”
The prolonged detention of refugees and asylum seekers hasn’t worked out so well for Australia. Suicide is common among detained refugees in Australia, and riots erupted in April in the country’s detention centers over Australia’s prolonged mandatory detention policy.
Salvatore Colleluori over at Political Correction further argues that Smith’s bill is “an attempt to correct a statistically small problem.” In his testimony on the bill, Immigration and Customs Enforcement official Gary Mead pointed out, “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.”