Rep. Jason Crow Introduces Bill to Require Congressional Access to ICE Detention Facilities

May 22, 2019
Press Release

The Public Oversight of Detention Centers (POD) Act would provide members of Congress access to immigration detention centers within 48 hours of request

POD Act introduced after Crow was denied entry to Aurora’s ICE detention site after a series of viral outbreaks

In 2019 alone, ICE facilities have had outbreaks in Colorado, Louisiana, and Texas

 

WASHINGTON – This week, Rep. Jason Crow (CO-06) alongside Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), and Hank Johnson (GA-04) introduced legislation to prevent the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from blocking members of Congress from access to detention centers that house immigrants and migrant children. The Public Oversight of Detention Centers (POD) Act would promote transparency and accountability by allowing members of Congress to gain access to detention facilities within 48 hours of request. The bill would provide entry to both juvenile and adult facilities. To date, there are over 200 immigration detention facilities with the detention bed number a record high of 49,000.

The POD Act follows multiple instances of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) blocking members of Congress from entering detention facilities to conduct oversight.

Denver Post: Jason Crow denied entry in surprise visit to Aurora’s ICE detention site amid another rash of illnesses [February 2019]

Miami Herald: Trump blocks three Florida congresswomen from visiting Homestead child detention center [April 2019]

USA Today: Senator blocked from entering detention center housing migrants' kids [June 2018]

Crow’s bill follows a letter he led last month urging the inclusion of similar language to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, to ensure timely access to immigration detention centers by members of Congress. After introduction, the POD Act will be referred to both the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees for further action.

In Colorado 6th’s district, ICE repeatedly denied Crow access to a GEO Group-run facility in Aurora, including blocking the Congressman from attending a press tour. Crow finally received a tour over three weeks after his initial visit and request on February 20th. The Aurora facility has come under fire for multiple reports of poor conditions and disease outbreaks. To date, detention centers in Texas and Louisiana have also reported similar disease outbreaks resulting in quarantines and a loss of due process.

"When my office learned of poor conditions and health issues at an ICE detention center in Aurora, we immediately sought access to the facility to conduct oversight. We were denied access not once but three times. Since then, we learned of infectious disease outbreaks and conditions. The agency’s lack of transparency and accountability put the health of the public and detainees at risk,” said Congressman Jason Crow. "We're seeing similar situations occur across the country fueled by ICE's culture of secrecy. I'm proud to introduce the POD Act which will allow members of Congress to conduct the oversight that this administration refuses to do and introduce transparency into a broken system. People are dying and we can't wait a moment longer."

“It is outrageous that Members of Congress are being denied entry into DHS and HHS facilities,” said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. “Part of the reason we were elected was to conduct proper oversight over the Trump Administration, which has repeatedly violated federal law regarding these visits—specifically a provision in last year’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education funding bill. There should be nothing to hide at the facilities holding unaccompanied and migrant children, and it is our moral obligation to ensure they are being treated properly.”

“There is no greater responsibility than the care of the children in custody. Just this week another child died in CPB custody, adding for a total of 4 just this year. Even one is one too many. That’s why Congress’s authority to monitor and oversee Executive Branch activity is one of the most important constitutional duties assigned to the Legislative Branch,” said Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia. “If our representatives are unable to properly engage with DHS or HHS detention centers to determine whether our laws are being faithfully carried out, our Constitution ceases to operate as it was originally intended. It is imperative that all members of Congress are allowed timely entry into detention centers that house immigrants and migrant children in order to ensure the safety and well-being of these families.”

“Detention facilities cannot be enshrouded in secrecy if we are to uphold the rule of law in this country, and they should not have the authority to turn away members of Congress – who are simply doing their jobs as a co-equal branch of government. In my home state of Georgia, Yulio Castro Garrido died of pneumonia while in custody at the Stewart Detention Center. Tragically, this is not an isolated incident. We must be allowed to conduct necessary oversight to find justice for Mr. Garrido’s family, and every family whose loved ones have lost their lives while in custody of the Department of Homeland Security,” said Rep. Hank Johnson.

"The longer we allow ICE and CBP to run their facilities in the dark, the more we perpetuate the rights abuses that exist in these jails. Uninhibited access into all immigration detention facilities for Members  of Congress is an essential step in holding ICE and CBP accountable for the conditions of their facilities and their treatment of detained immigrants,” said Haddy Gassama, Detention Oversight Fellow at the National Immigrant Justice Center.

The POD Act is endorsed by Project on Government Oversight, UnidosUS, National Council of Jewish Women, Inc., Church World Service, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), National Immigrant Justice Center, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Colorado People’s Alliance (COPA), Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Village Exchange Center, Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN), and ECDC African Community Center.

A copy of the bill text can be found here