The Department of Homeland Security announced last week that it plans to convert hotels, nursing homes, and other residential facilities into detention buildings to house "non-criminal, non-violent" illegal immigrants as they await court hearings and deportation to their native countries.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Thanks to the Department of Homeland Security, advocates on both sides of the illegal immigration debate have finally found common ground. They both agree that housing illegal immigrants in hotels while they await hearings and deportation is the wrong way to solve a national problem.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary John Morton announced last week that the DHS plans to convert hotels, nursing homes, and other residential facilities into detention buildings to house "non-criminal, non-violent" illegal immigrants while their cases are considered.
While there won't be room service or a mini-bar, officials and immigration reform advocates say converted hotels will be far better housing than the overcrowded, prison-like detention facilities illegals are currently placed in.
"There have been scores of deaths in detention centers and a lot of these people are nonviolent and awaiting civil deportation," said Marshall Fritz, director of immigration policy for the Center for American Progress. "The idea of a less punitive setting is a welcome one."
But the initiative is being roundly criticized by immigration reform advocates, who say it does little to change an underlying, flawed immigration system, and by deportation advocates, who say it is a drain of public funds.
Fritz and others say the very idea of using converted hotels to detain illegal immigrants underscores some of the "absurdities" of current immigration policy.
"They're converting the longstanding detention model into a hospitality model," said Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "Instead of focusing resources where it would do the best -- enforcement -- they're retrofitting Ramada Inns with no specifics as to the security aspects."
"It doesn't change what we have -- and that's a dysfunctional, Draconian system based on a law that is unworkable," added David Leopold, president of the American Immigrations Law Association. "We detain far too many people at high costs to the American taxpayer, with no real benefit."
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
While Leopold said he applauds the administration's efforts to make detention centers more "civil," he said he advocates less expensive, less restrictive measures like ankle bracelets to ensure illegal immigrants' presence at court hearings.
"People accused of vary serious drug crimes walk out of court all the time with ankle bracelets, while illegal immigrants who have never even been suspected of a crime get locked up all the time," he said.
But critics say that illegal immigrants have committed a crime -- entering the United States illegally -- and that they should be punished through speedy detention and deportation.
"It's illegal to be here in the United States illegally," said William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, who added that he has serious concerns over the DHS plan.
"This is the Obama administration's way of turning them loose -- I don't even think they're going to be made to stay in the hotels," he said, noting that there are "many nonviolent people in American jails who are not being afforded the luxury of hotels."
Close to 32,000 immigrants to the U.S. are detained at any given time in about 350 local jails and prisons, many of which have been blasted by civil liberties groups for providing inadequate medical care and allowing inhumane living conditions.
Congress has failed to pass reforms as lawmakers spar over how to deal with the nearly 12 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the country. President Obama supports giving illegal immigrants in good standing the chance to become citizens if they pay a fine, and he advocates increased border security and harsh penalties against employers who hire undocumented workers.