(WASHINGTON, D.C.)--Today, Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) and Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07) introduced the Waiver Accountability and Transparency Act to rein in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) excessive use of waivers to allow immigration detention facilities to circumvent critical federal standards.  The legislation requires waiver documents to be publicly posted online and submitted to Congress, establishes time limits for waivers, and mandates that the ICE Director signs off on all waivers.

In January, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General released a reportfinding that “ICE has no formal policies and procedures to govern the waiver process, has allowed officials without clear authority to grant waivers, and does not ensure key stakeholders have access to approved waivers.”  The report found that ICE had granted waivers that put the health and safety of detained immigrants at risk, including one waiver allowing a detention facility to use toxic CS gas instead of pepper spray.

“Transparency and accountability are the foundation of our nation.  But, ICE’s irresponsible practice of rubber stamping waiver requests endangers the health and safety of tens of thousands of immigrants,” said Congressman Cummings.  “The Waiver Accountability and Transparency Act reforms ICE’s waiver process to require formal policies that make ICE accountable to the American people.  This bill is a major step toward making sure that immigrants are treated with dignity and respect.”

“I’m proud to introduce the Waiver Accountability and Transparency Act with my colleague Rep. Cummings,” said Congressman Raskin.  “This legislation would reform the waiver process to ultimately make it more open and transparent by mandating public availability of waivers, establishing waiver time limits, and requiring waiver sign off by the ICE Director.  Given this Administration’s absolutely reprehensible approach to our nation’s immigration and border policies, Congress must do all we can to improve conditions for detained immigrants.”

"ICE's leadership sees human rights and accountability as optional.  NIJC applauds Congressman Cummings and Congressman Raskin for highlighting the importance of transparent governance in the immigration detention, system where lives and dignity are compromised daily" said Heidi Altman, Director of Policy for the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Specifically, the Waiver Accountability and Transparency Act:

  • Requires Transparency.  The bill would mandate that waiver request and decision documents are posted online for the public to view and are shared with Congress within three days.
  • Brings Accountability to the Waiver Process.  This legislation would ensure that there is leadership accountability for the granting of waivers by requiring that the ICE Director, or acting Director, sign off on the waiver and any reauthorization. After one year, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Chief Financial Officer must also approve the waiver.
  • Protects Immigrants In Detention.  The bill would increase compliance with detention standards that protect the health, safety, and welfare of immigrants in detention.
  • Ends Indefinite Waivers. The legislation would limit waivers to 90 days and allow for 90 day renewal waivers if they are still needed.
  • Mandates Corrective Action Plans In The Most Serious Cases.  The bill would mandate that waiver requests are graded and requires the implementation of a corrective action plan in the most serious cases such as those impacting due process, medical care, safety, security, and rights.
  • Expands The Ability To Impose Financial Penalties.  The legislation would expand the use of Quality Assurance Surveillance Plans (QASP) which are used to recommend financial penalties. New contracts would need to include QASPs and the ICE Director must submit a report to Congress outlining how to include these plans in existing agreements.
  • Tracks Financial Penalties.  The bill would require that financial penalties imposed on immigration detention facilities are posted publicly every 30 days.

The Waiver Accountability and Transparency Act is supported by the National Immigrant Justice Center and Detention Watch Network.

Click here for the bill text.