The three Democratic presidential candidates – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley – articulated their immigration policy plans at this week’s National Immigrant Integration Conference (NIIC) in Brooklyn, New York. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the first to address the over 1,000 attendees with a speech in which she committed herself to comprehensive immigration reform “with a path to full and equal citizenship.” She added that she would maintain the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs, the Executive actions that would provide a reprieve from deportation and work authorization to certain unauthorized immigrants.
Secretary Clinton also announced that she would end privately-owned immigrant detention centers, as well as family detention. She stated:
There are people in immigration detention right now who are on a hunger strike. We need to be focused on detention conditions. And as president, I’ll close private immigration detention centers. This is a critical government responsibility and we should not be outsourcing it to anyone else. I’ll also end family detention. We have good alternatives and we should use them.
The following day, former Governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont expressed support for this idea, with Senator Sanders pointing out that he had recently introduced legislation to “end private prisons that profit from jailing immigrants.”
The remarks by the Democratic presidential candidates are consistent with the recommendations made in a report on the US immigrant detention system by the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) and Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USSCB). Despite claims that private prison agencies provide higher-quality, more accountable services at less cost than the government, there have been consistent reports of poor government oversight and high levels of abuse committed against immigrant detainees in privately owned and operated facilities. The CMS/MRS report stated:
“Custody determinations and imprisonment implicate liberty, human flourishing, the integrity of families and contributory justice. States exist to promote these shared ‘goods.’ Yet the government has increasingly ceded responsibility for this function to private, for-profit entities whose primary loyalties run to their shareholders, not to the common good. Investors and private prison agencies have viewed even the tragic increase in unaccompanied child minors as a business and an investment opportunity.”
The report also called for the end of family detention and for a substantial expansion of “community-based supervision and support programs … as necessary to ensure [court] appearances.”
In a subsequent analysis of the immigration detention system on a single night, September 22, 2012, CMS found that for-profit prisons owned or operated 67 percent of immigrant detention beds, including 91 percent of the beds in the 21 largest detention facilities. The CMS paper also reported that less than 10 percent of all detainees on September 22, 2012 had committed violent crimes. It concluded that “the privatization of immigrant detention may represent the greatest barrier to detention reform and to a transparent, accountable and more humane system.”
To read the CMS/MRS report, visit “Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Transform the US Immigrant Detention System.”
To read CMS’s exhaustive, point-in-time analysis of the immigrant detention system, visit “Piecing Together the US Immigrant Detention Puzzle One Night at a Time: An Analysis of All Persons in DHS-ICE Custody on September 22, 2012.”
To listen to the complete 2015 NIIC addresses by the Democratic presidential candidates, visit the following links: