Detention Watch Network today launched its “Dignity, Not Detention” campaign, calling on Congress to repeal the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which mandates the detention of undocumented immigrants. The law was signed by President Clinton 15 years ago this week.

Andrea Black, executive director of Detention Watch Network, said during a conference call today that mandatory detention has torn apart families and violated due process.

“This law, in tandem with another law enacted earlier in 1996, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, completely changed the way the U.S. deals with immigration,” Black said. “A major component of the 1996 laws was the expanded scope of mandatory detention, a practice which imprisons people without any consideration of whether detention is necessary or appropriate.”

Detention Watch Network’s Silky Shah said anybody can be detained under the Illegal Immigration Reform act, adding that “any non-citizen can end up being subject to mandatory detention, including legal permanent residents and asylum seekers.”

“Mandatory detention can be also be applied to non-citizens convicted of a crime regardless of the seriousness of the crime,” she said. “Unlike the criminal justice system there is no definite release date for immigrant detainees.” She said immigrants have no right to a bond hearing.

In 2010 alone, 363,000 people were detained and “at least 60 percent were subject to mandatory detention according to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement, aka ICE],” and this has increased human rights abuses that have led to over 120 deaths in detention since 2003. In 2009, ICE stated it wanted to reform the system to reduce abuses. This year, ICE announced “plans to build seven new detention centers.”

Shah said these new detention centers will increase the number of people being detained.

Kathy Bird of Florida Immigrant Coalition said during the call that “mandatory detention and Secure Communities are some of the main reasons for the alarming increase of detention over the last few years.”

According to Bird, in Florida the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has selected the town of Southwest Ranches and Corrections Corporation of America (known as CCA) “to build one of the largest immigrant detention centers in the U.S.” Bird said the construction project “is inconsistent with recently announced changes in deportation priorities by Obama’s administration. We currently haven’t seen any decrease in detention and deportation of low-priority cases.”

She said CCA is a major ICE contractor, and will earn $89 million a year in tax dollars, while Southwest Ranches would pay $150,000 a year to CCA for the opportunity to make a commission on each person that is detained.

Hope Mustakim — wife of Nazry Mustakim, an immigrant detained in Texas — said during the call he is under mandatory detention, and was denied release for humanitarian reasons. Mustakim said she has been diagnosed with depression, and has seen firsthand how the mandatory detention of non-violent people accused of civil violations puts a financial and emotional a strain on families.

Rev. David Fraccaro said that faith communities are often times the first responders for people under mandatory detention. He said different religious denominations are involved in “denouncing the inhumane conditions” of mandatory detention, and that “other groups are visiting immigrants and asylum seekers in detention.”

Shah said  the “Dignity, Not Detention” campaign, highlighting the impact of the 1996 act, will be a long-term strategy.

Black said the first step is to educate the public on the reality of mandatory detention expansion over the last 15 years, “a system that is in dire need of reform.”

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