Detention Reform Strikes Ire in the Heart of Senator Grassley

Earlier this week, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrote a misguided letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary John Morton. The Senator complained to Secretary Morton about the possibility of ICE allowing low-risk detainees to wear recreational clothing, use the phone, and send emails. Grassley likened these to hotel amenities, complaining that they might reduce the deterrent effect that detention provides. But where was the Iowa Senator when it came to light that a detention facility guard was accused of sexually assaulting detainees? While it may be admirable that Senator Grassley is concerned about the use of taxpayer dollars, it is unconscionable that these fiscal issues worry him more than the safety and well-being of fellow humans.

Senator Grassley’s letter was inspired by an email leaked to the Houston Chronicle detailing detention reforms. The email detailed detention reforms in nine locations, all in facilities run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA is the same contractor who employed the guard accused of sexually assaulting detainees, and has faced criticism for their violation of ICE policies concerning the treatment and supervision of female detainees. While the Chronicle article does not mention the alleged sexual assault, it seems likely that many of these changes are being made in response to the alleged assault.

The email discussed 28 changes to the nine facilities, which may take anywhere from 30 days to six months to implement, according to ICE Senior Counselor Beth Gibson. The changes include:

  • Allowing freedom of movement for low risk detainees, who will no longer be subject to lockdown or lights out, and will be given increased exercise time
  • Allowing detainees to have visitors for as long as they want during the 12 hour window
  • Increased attorney visitation space, access to email and phone
  • Allowing detainees to wear recreational clothing
  • Offering art classes, bingo, and continental breakfast on the weekends

Senator Grassley’s main worry seems to be that taxpayers want to finance detention and removal efforts, not these reforms. Of course, these changes are being made at no additional cost to ICE. Still worried about the costs of detention? Why not comment on the quotas set by ICE officials to detain more immigrants, regardless of severity of offense? Or, for the sake of comparison, perhaps the good Senator should take a look at our federal prisons, where horticulture and cosmetology classes are offered for some, and white-collar criminals may receive classes in accounting and business management. Instead, Senator Grassley decided to attack immigrant detainees, many of whom are refugees, asylum-seekers, and other non-violent offenders, usually detained because of low-level immigration violations. Even worse, many of the detainees are only awaiting a asylum or removal hearing, and are not likely to serve time once they receive their day in court.

The issue is not that Senator Grassley is concerned about the spending of taxpayer dollars—he certainly should be—but that he is directing his criticism in the wrong places for the wrong reasons. Reforming a system that has repeatedly failed to protect its detainees is a worthy use of taxpayer dollars, not to mention the plain, common-sense, right thing to do. Yet, the Senator only has time to pen a letter when detainees are given access to email, not when allegations of assault and or cover-ups of detainee deaths arise. The Senator clearly has a heart, it just appears to be two sizes too small.

Photo by PaulRevereRides

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