The problem with “Immigration Detention” is that, at bottom, it requires the incarceration of immigrants for civil violations, whether or not they are dangerous criminals who would do the public harm.The point of immigration detention, so Congress has declared, is not to punish, but to ensure appearance in immigration court and, ultimately, departure from theU.S.after an final order of deportation has been entered.

And so, as a society, we attempt sanitize the ugly reality of immigration confinement with semantics.We refer to it as “temporary administrative detention” or by some other innocuous description.

But the reality is that immigration detention is prison.Indeed, many detainees around the country are housed with violent criminals, whether or not the immigrants themselves are guilty or suspected of committing criminal offenses.So, it is a good thing that secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano and I.C.E. assistant secretary John Morton have launched a new effort to improve the immigration detention system.According to reports in the media, the effort will be to design a system that reflects the “civil” nature of immigration detention.

I applaud these efforts.It is high time that asylum seekers, breast feeding mothers, visa overstays, and other victims of our broken immigration system no longer be warehoused in prisons where all too often they are denied access to counsel, family members, and proper medical care.This, after all, is theUnited States.

But I fear that these administrative fixes will not solve the unfairness, indeed inhumanity, inherent in an immigration detention system that requires the incarceration of immigrants who pose neither a risk of flight nor a danger to the community.What we need is a legislative overhaul of our entire immigration scheme which includes fair detention provisions designed to protect the community, reduce the risk of flight, and guarantee due process. What we have now is INA § 236(c), which mandates the detention of scores of immigrants, including many long-term lawful permanent residents who haveU.S.citizen spouses and children, and extensive community ties.Not only is the current system unfair, but it wastes valuable taxpayer dollars on the needless imprisonment of otherwise law abiding immigrants.

To achieve a “truly civil detention system,” as I.C.E. director Morton describes it, Congress must enact comprehensive immigration reform and replace the draconian mandatory detention provision with a “truly civil” law.