Coalition Letter Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Detention Act (S. 1549)

November 25, 2009

Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand
Russell Senate Office Building, SR-478
Washington, DC 20510-3203
Fax: (202) 228-0282

Senator Robert Menendez
Hart Senate Office Building, SH-528
Washington, DC 20510-3001
Fax: (202) 228-2197

Re: Asylum Seekers and Detention

Dear Senator:

The pilgrims arrived on these shores almost 400 years ago in search of religious freedom. Centuries later, the Thanksgiving holiday reminds us to honor the core freedoms that continue to make the United States a place of hope and safety for refugees fleeing religious, political and other forms of persecution. The undersigned represent 43 faithbased, human rights, refugee assistance and other organizations and individuals that provide legal counsel or social services to, or advocate on behalf of, asylum seekers who are detained in U.S. immigration detention facilities. During this Thanksgiving season, we write to thank you for your leadership in promoting key principles of detention reform through your co-sponsorship of the Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Detention Act (S. 1549), introduced in July 2009.

The Department of Homeland Security’s recent announcements of its planned reforms to the immigration detention system are promising signs, but they omit crucial due process and accountability measures. Such measures would help ensure that asylum seekers are not held in detention if they do not pose a risk of flight or danger to others. We believe that reforms to the United States’ unjust immigration detention system must be mandated by law.

The Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Detention Act establishes a number of procedural protections for immigrants in detention with special provisions for “vulnerable populations,” including asylum seekers. Of particular significance to asylum seekers, it would:

  • Expand parole opportunities for vulnerable populations subject to detention and provide access for all asylum seekers to custody determinations by an immigration judge, which currently does not exist;
  • Reform existing alternatives to detention programs and restrict use of electronic monitoring devices on vulnerable groups; and
  • Establish oversight of DHS enforcement actions by creating an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Ombudsman.

We encourage you to continue to support key principles of detention reform so that this country lives up to the commitments it has made to protect the persecuted – rather than greeting them with handcuffs and prisons. Not only are basic due process safeguards – like providing court review of a decision to detain a person – called for under international human rights and refugee protection standards, but they are also consistent with core American values. Congress has a responsibility to bring U.S. practice in line with human rights standards and this country’s best values – and to uphold the United States’ historic commitment to protection of asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups.

Thank you for leading the way. Wishing you a peaceful and safe Thanksgiving holiday.


New York/New Jersey Groups
American Association of Jews from the Former USSR, Inc.
New York, NY
Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture
New York, NY
Catholic Charities Community Services
New York, NY
Center for Social Justice
Seton Hall University School of Law
Newark, NJ
Chinatown Manpower Project, Inc.
Refugee/Asylee Program
New York, NY
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
New York, NY
Human Rights First
New York, NY
Immigration Equality
New York, NY
Interfaith Refugee Action Team & First Friends
Elizabeth, NJ
New York Immigration Coalition
New York, NY
Riverside Church Sojourners Immigration Detention Visitor Project
New York, NY
Sanctuary for Families
New York, NY
Women's Refugee Commission
New York, NY
National Groups
Montpelier, VT
Advocates for Human Rights
Minneapolis, MN
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Washington, DC
American Jewish Committee
Washington, DC
Asian Law Caucus
San Francisco, CA
Catholic Charities Hawaii
Honolulu, HI
Center for Gender and Refugee Studies
Hastings College of the Law
San Francisco, CA
Center for Victims of Torture
Minneapolis, MN
The Episcopal Church
Washington, DC
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Washington, DC
Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights
Atlanta, GA
Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center
Honolulu, HI
Hawaii Interpreter Action Network
Honolulu, HI
Institute for Redress and Recovery
Santa Clara, CA
Institute for the Study of Psychosocial Trauma
Palo Alto, CA
International Institute of Connecticut, Inc.
Bridgeport, CT
Jubilee Campaign USA
Fairfax, VA
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Baltimore, MD
National Immigrant Justice Center
Chicago, IL
National Immigration Forum
Washington, DC
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
Seattle, WA
South Asian Americans Leading Together
Takoma Park, MD
Survivors International
San Francisco, CA
Survivors of Torture, International
San Diego, CA
Tahirih Justice Center
Falls Church, VA
Houston, TX
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Washington, DC
World Relief
Baltimore, MD
Debbie Anker
Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program & Clinical Professor of Law
Harvard Law School
(affiliation for identification purposes only)
Sabrineh Ardalan
Clinical and Advocacy Fellow
Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program
Harvard Law School
(affiliation for identification purposes only)
Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia
Center for Immigrants' Rights & Clinical Professor of Law
Penn State Dickinson School of Law
(affiliation for identification purposes only)