Administration Urged to Abandon Family Detention Policy Two Years After Announcement

Washington, D.C.—In honor of World Refugee Day, and ahead of the two-year anniversary of the Obama Administration’s family detention policy, Human Rights First today renewed its calls for the Obama Administration to end its policy of detaining women and children fleeing violence and persecution.

“Family detention exacerbates the trauma that vulnerable women and children faced in their home countries; the policy is harmful to children’s health and development, ignores more cost-effective solutions, and betrays America’s legacy as a haven for the persecuted,” said Human Rights First’s Olga Byrne.

On June 20, 2014 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced plans to significantly increase its capacity to detain parents and children arriving at the southern border, the vast majority of whom were seeking asylum, in order to “deter others from taking the dangerous journey and illegally crossing into the United States.”

In the past two years, a number of courts and government agencies have issued decisions that recognize that family detention facilities are not childcare centers and violate various provisions of law that apply to holding immigrant children in custody. A motion to enforce was filed last month against the federal government that contained new evidence of the government’s continued violations of the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which governs the standards for the detention, release, and treatment of minors in immigration custody.

Earlier this month a Texas judge issued a temporary injunction stating that the Dilley facility must comply with Texas state laws that regulate child care facilities before it can receive a license to operate as a child care facility – for example, that the facility cannot house unrelated adults in the same room as children. Earlier this year, the Berks County family detention center in Pennsylvania faced a similar licensing issue; its license expired and was not renewed in February 2016. The Berks detention center had been licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services as a child residential facility for dependent and delinquent children. Just this week, the Jim Wells County Commissioners in south Texas voted unanimously against the opening of another family detention center in the county.

A growing body of medical literature has found that detention is harmful to children’s health. Community-based alternatives to detention have been proven to support appearance at hearings, while also providing families with social supports, when needed. Legal counsel is also key to ensuring due process and compliance with immigration proceedings. When mothers and children were represented by counsel, they appeared for hearings 98 percent of the time.

A broad array of voices have called on the administration to end the practice of detaining families, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Bar Association, Catholic and Lutheran Bishops, and 178 Members of Congress and 35 Senators. Many groups have similarly called for the administration to immediately end deportation raids against families.

Yesterday Human Rights First released a new fact sheet, “World Refugee Day 2016: Family Detention at Two Years” that provides recommendations for the Obama Administration, including:

  • The Obama Administration should end family detention once and for all;
  • DHS should refer all families directly into removal proceedings before an immigration judge, and/or refer them directly for full asylum eligibility interviews before the USCIS asylum office, rather than invoking expedited removal;
  • DHS should immediately end enforcement raids in communities against children and families, many of whom have been unrepresented and have not had a fair opportunity to pursue their claims for protection;
  • DHS and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) should implement community-based alternatives to detention programs and legal orientation presentations at the border, and increase access to counsel; and
  • The Obama Administration should work with regional partners to improve refugee protection in the region and to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to address the Central American refugee crisis by improving conditions in Central America so that children, families, and other individuals can safely remain in their countries of origin.

Published on June 17, 2016


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