Indeed ICE has not gone far enough. It should recognize the applicability of the Prison Rape Elimination Act standards to immigration detention. When Congress enacted the law in 2003, it was intended to protect every individual in government custody. But ICE and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, are resisting and leaving people at greater risk of rape and sexual assault in immigration detention. 

Rep. Smith rightly points out that immigration detention is expensive, costing $2 billion annually. But the solution is not to deprive detainees the basic care and treatment that U.S. law and common decency require as Smith proposes. The better solution that ICE uses but could implement more effectively is alternatives to detention, such as release on bond, intensive supervision and GPS-technology, that cost a dime for each dollar spent on jails. ICE should screen people more carefully for these more humane and cost effective methods.

Smith’s statement betrays a callousness that is unacceptable when we are talking about the detention of human beings.  Over the years he has proposed extreme measures, such as H.R. 1932, that grossly misuse detention and are clearly unconstitutional. To take away one’s liberty is a power that must be exercised carefully and with restraint. And when someone is jailed, our government bears the responsibility for caring properly for them.

Chen is the director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The AILA is the national association of over 11,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law.