Friday, June 11, 2010

Grassley Looking for Information on Detained Illegal Immigrants Gaining Access

to Taxpayer Funded Entertainment, Internet

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today asked for additional information from the federal agency that detains illegal immigrants about its plans to provide those who it has detained on immigration charges with access to free email and phone access and new recreational activities including bingo, dance lessons and art classes.                      

Grassley said his concerns follow a June 8 Houston Chronicle article that said, "Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are preparing to roll out a series of changes at several privately owned immigration detention centers, including relaxing some security measures for low-risk detainees and offering art classes, bingo and continental breakfast on the weekends."

"Taxpayers will not tolerate Uncle Sam using their money to provide dance lessons and bingo to those who knowingly broke our laws," Grassley said.

Here is a copy of Grassley's letter to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary.

June 11, 2010

The Honorable John Morton

Assistant Secretary

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

500 12th Street Southwest

Washington, D.C. 20536

Dear Secretary Morton:

I'm writing with serious concerns about your agency's latest changes to detention policies that will allow illegal aliens access to recreational activities and increased communication opportunities, giving detainees an overly-comfortable place to reside while they are prosecuted for breaking the law.

According to the Houston Chronicle, illegal aliens could now be given access to bingo, art classes, and continental breakfasts on weekends.  The article also states that ICE plans to eliminate lockdowns and lights-out for low-risk detainees, allow visitors to stay as long as they like in a 12-hour period, and allow low-risk detainees to wear their own clothing or other non-penal attire.  More disturbing is the report that ICE will now be providing e-mail access and Internet-based free phone service to detainees.

I realize that there are many low-risk detainees under the control of ICE, but reducing the standards for these lawbreakers will create a moral hazard and reduce the deterrent effect that prison time is supposed to have.  Even one ICE official stated the new management standards reinforces the idea that detention is "not about punishing people for a crime they committed."   These detainees, low-risk or not, broke the law in order to enter or remain in this country, and could have more entertainment and access to the outside world than other inmates in U.S. jails.  Giving illegal aliens access to computer training and tutoring, as well as dance lessons, cooking classes and movie nights, will only encourage illegal aliens to ignore the law and take more risks to defraud our immigration system.

According to the same article from the Houston Chronicle, many working in these facilities will fear for their safety if detention standards are lowered.  One union leader states that while some of these detainees have no serious criminal history, many may be former gang members. Gang members and the like will now have an easier time to ply their trade in this setting, jeopardizing the safety of the other detainees and correction officers.

Finally, taxpayers would be very disappointed if the reports are true since they are financing detention and removal efforts.  Expending taxpayer dollars to give illegal aliens access to bingo, dance lessons and the internet is a slap in the face to hardworking Americans who foot the bill.  It's even more frustrating given that so many Americans are unemployed and looking for work while illegal aliens are getting free tutoring and computer classes to advance their own lives.

For these reasons, I urge you to reconsider lowering detention standards.  I would also appreciate a copy of the internal memo obtained by the Houston Chronicle in addition to a briefing to discuss this report no later than Friday, June 18. Please contact Kathy Nuebel Kovarik of my staff at 202-224-3744 about this matter.


Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

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