A Call to End Indefinite Detention

The right to due process under the law is a cornerstone of America’s commitment to freedom and fairness. Protections against unfair imprisonment, mistreatment by law enforcement officials, and indefinite detention—guaranteed by the 5th and 6th amendments of the Constitution—are rights that no one living in the United States would or should be expected to go without.

Unfortunately, the right to due process ends at immigration enforcement. One of the many cracks in our broken immigration system is that undocumented immigrants are frequently detained for months or even years. In addition to violating our values, these detentions also have a fiscal price tag; a 2009 report from Human Rights First estimated that the United States spent $300 million on indefinite detentions from 2003 to 2009. Nobody benefits from a system that cannot process immigration violations and clogs an already overburdened detention system. Without real solutions, a lack of due process undermines the fairness and efficacy our justice system is based on.

The Supreme Court ruled that detaining undocumented immigrants is supposed to be a temporary measure that lasted only as long as it was “reasonably necessary to secure removal” of the person—it was never intended to be a punishment for a crime. Detaining immigrants for months or even years because we don’t know what to do with them not only doesn’t make sense, it violates our basic notions of due process. Due process isn’t just a right guaranteed to citizens--it applies to anyone in the United States. A speedier, more transparent trial and appeals process would go a long way toward making our immigration policies fairer and more effective.

To date, indefinite detention has been the result of organizational failure on an overburdened immigration system. Recently proposed legislation would codify indefinite detention for migrants who cannot be returned to their home countries. American citizens have perhaps come to expect a level of gridlock in Congress, but no one should accept the legalization of a broken status quo. Our values, and our sense of equal justice, demand better.

If we want to end indefinite detention, the process starts with greater accountability from the Department of Homeland Security to end these prolonged detentions and create greater transparency. If one group can be denied due process, none of us will be safe to enjoy the rights that America stands for.

Tags: Supreme Court, human rights, immigration, detention (all tags)

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