Vera Calls on President Biden to Prioritize Immigration and Criminal Justice Issues in First Address to Congress

Vera is encouraged by the Biden administration’s response so far to tackle COVID-19, including providing trillions of dollars to support families in need, investing in community infrastructure and jobs, and issuing the Day One immigration bill and executive orders. These are important first steps. However, we have yet to see enough concrete action on the criminal justice and immigration front. As President Biden prepares for his first speech to a joint session of Congress this Wednesday, Vera is calling on the administration to truly demonstrate its commitment to criminal justice and immigration reform. Vice President of Advocacy and Partnerships Insha Rahman highlighted the following four actions:

  • Commit money from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan to be used to invest in community-based public safety. The American Rescue Plan allocates a total of $350 billion to state, local, and tribal governments—and, in the face of a number of high-profile police killings, it is imperative to use money that might have gone to police departments to instead reengineer 911 and law enforcement responses, so police aren’t the first responders to every call; fund community-based treatment; and invest in education, housing, and more.

  • Call for transparency and accountability as the fight against COVID-19 in jails and prisons continues by supporting the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act and creating a commission to address the failure to manage the pandemic behind bars. Despite not having taken concrete measures to fight COVID-19 behind bars, the Biden-Harris administration still has a chance to push for transparency and accountability by collecting and disseminating data on the number of people infected, the number of deaths, and the number of vaccinations. This data should help to inform a commission that will study and address the failure to respond effectively to COVID-19 in jails and prisons and offer solutions to prevent the next public health crisis from disproportionately impacting people behind bars.

  • Address the increasing number of unaccompanied children arriving in the United States and ensure they are protected while in federal custody, and urge the Department of Justice to reduce prosecutions for unlawful entry and illegal reentry. The Biden-Harris administration must safeguard the rights of vulnerable immigrant children in federal custody and ensure transparency, oversight, and accountability in all instances in which the federal government is detaining them. We also call for the swift release and reunification of children with family members whenever possible. In addition, prosecutions for unlawful entry and illegal reentry further criminalize immigration and make up 65 percent of federal immigration cases. By removing unlawful entry and illegal reentry from the categorization of a federal crime, the United States would reduce incarceration and significantly lower the risks associated with crossing the U.S. border.

About the Vera Institute of Justice:

The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice. Vera collaborates with the communities most impacted by these systems and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement change. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color and frames all work with an understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, providing legal services for immigrants, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. Vera has offices in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; New Orleans, and Los Angeles.