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Pramila Jayapal Doesn’t Want to Give Trump “a Dollar More” for His “Vanity Wall”

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John Moore/Getty

Forget about President Donald Trump’s wild dreams of fortifying his border wall with a snake-filled moat: The immigration policies he has implemented have wreaked havoc at the border and expanded a cruel detention system rife with health and safety violations. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) says this system is in desperate need of reform—and in recent months has pushed to keep the issue a top priority for legislators.

On September 26, the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship held a hearing on the continued expansion and current state of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention system. Chaired by Jayapal, the hearing included testimonies from former detainees, advocates, and former ICE Director Thomas Homan. In February, Congress approved funding for ICE for about 45,000 beds per day in the hopes of reducing that number to 40,500 beds by October 1. NBC News reported that in August, the Department of Homeland Security transferred $169 million from other agencies, including FEMA and the Coast Guard, to ICE. Now, there are about 51,000 people in ICE detention. “It is a universally accepted fact that immigration detention is supposed to be a civil, non-punitive function,” Jayapal said in her opening statement, “However, the immigration detention system is a virtual replica of the criminal incarceration system.”

Jayapal has sponsored a House bill, the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, that would completely overhaul that system, including eliminating for-profit immigration detention. Though Jayapal’s bill would be ignored by a Republican-led Senate, it’s reflective of how progressive Democrats think about fixing an unjust punitive system.

In the wake of last week’s hearing, Jayapal spoke with Mother Jones about the bill and how she thinks the immigration process could be transformed. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Give a quick summary of what your bill would do.

The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act would transform the detention system from its currently cruel and inhumane and costly system to one that is much more humane and cost-effective. It would transition all for-profit immigration prisons to government-run and funded detention centers over a period of three years. It would also eliminate mandatory detention. It would protect the rights of vulnerable populations, in particular, by introducing alternatives to detention for those who do not need to be in a jail, have never been charged, much less convicted of anything, and are simply waiting for their asylum papers to come through. It streamlines the whole detention process so that we are really only retaining people who really need to be in detention and we are not using it as a punitive incarceration system for 56,000 people every day.

What are some of those alternatives to detention?

There are a number of community-based programs that have been incredibly effective where you can release individuals into the community. You can provide them with........

© Mother Jones