The Senate is committed to changing the immigration system, but will reform strengthen civil rights protections for immigrants who face detention and deportation?
The future of immigration reform may look brighter thanks to new support from conservative Republicans, but no matter how quickly the Senate and House craft and vote on legislation, any change in policy will come too late to help the thousands of immigrants who face immigration proceedings that lack due process.
In a hearing held Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee discussed how to improve an immigration system that is does not guarantee rights taken for granted by many citizens, such as the right to counsel or protection against unreasonable searches. Some 60% of immigrants facing removal proceeding do so without access to a lawyer, according to a study cited by Pamela Stampp, an immigration attorney who testified at the hearing. Furthermore, over 30,000 immigrants are placed in detention facilities to await deportation hearings. According to ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham, this number includes immigrants with some form of legal status, immigrants with family members who are citizens, and asylum seekers.
Despite Sen. Rand Paul’s high-profile reversal on immigration, Republicans would likely oppose any attempt to soften penalties for immigration violations, although this issue does not appear to have been part of the main debate. “Any comprehensive reform to our immigration system must address the backlog and injustices occurring in our immigration courts,” Sen. Patrick Leahy said in remarks he made at Wednesday’s hearing. However, there is no way to know whether the bill currently being crafted by the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” will address this issue because there is virtually no information about what is on the table beyond how to deal with immigrant labor and a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants. Leahy criticized the “few senators who are engaged in secret, closed door discussions on their own proposal” and called for greater transparency in negotiations as a whole.
Tune in to Saturday’s Up w/ Chris Hayes for a discussion on the politics of immigration reform and more.