National Day of Action (NDA) 2021 looks and feels very different this year. On a personal level, I have had the pleasure of attending several NDA gatherings as an AILA member. However, NDA 2021 will be my first as a member of the AILA staff. For all attendees, I know that a virtual NDA represents a shift in how we approach connecting with members of Congress and one another. And yet, opportunity awaits.
Taking a cue from Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” I encourage NDA participants to remain undaunted by the challenges ahead. Especially when it comes to advancing AILA’s priority of reducing and phasing out immigration detention in all forms.
One of my favorite lines from Ms. Gorman’s poem are the following:
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
and the norms and notions
of what just is
isn’t always just-ice.
Too many members of Congress and the American public have grown accustomed to the use of detention for immigration enforcement purposes. They have been told that it is the only way to ensure people appear for hearings and that civil detention is some kinder, gentler, form of incarceration. Others believe it is an acceptable tool of deterrence.
It is time to challenge the idea that the only way to enforce our immigration laws is using detention. Many are not aware that prior to the 1980’s, the United States government rarely detained people for immigration violations. That all changed in response to large numbers of Haitians arriving to this country seeking protection from a brutal and lethal dictatorship. Since then, the U.S. immigration detention system has continued to take lives, liberty, and due process. The current detention to deportation pipeline is inhumane, costly, and ineffective. Each year Americans pay over $2 billion for immigration detention to keep people in inexcusable conditions. Further, black immigrants are detained at disproportionate rates compared to the rest of the immigrant population.
As hundreds of us meet virtually with our elected leaders, we know that Congress and this administration have a dual challenge. They must address the immediate humanitarian needs of people arriving at the border, a cyclical pattern we have seen before with greater numbers arriving in the early part of the year. They have also set for themselves the task of creating an orderly and humane immigration system. We must encourage members of Congress to meet these challenges head-on and show them that AILA has solutions.
In a recent policy brief on immigration detention I coauthored with Greg Chen, we call on Congress and the Biden administration to seize the opportunity to move away from the nation’s harmful and grossly overused detention system. In its place, AILA proposes relying on proven community-based case management support, as needed, to ensure individuals understand their rights and obligations under our nation’s immigration laws.
As practicing attorneys, Department of Justice Accredited Representatives, and members of the legal community, you know the problems. AILA is ready to step in the gap and help provide just and humane solutions. Let’s climb that virtual hill together on April 22, 2021.