Detention of Families at the Border Not Consistent with American Ideals
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First expressed serious concern about the Obama Administration’s plan to begin detaining and quickly processing families at a 700 bed facility in Artesia, New Mexico as a response to the influx of minors and families crossing the U.S. – Mexico border. The news comes just days before congressional delegations are slated to visit the border to investigate the United States’ response to the influx.
“Detaining mothers and children who have come to this country seeking its protection from violence and persecution is not the way to respond to a regional humanitarian crisis,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “The detention of children and families – as a way of sending a message to deter others from fleeing to this country – is not consistent with America’s ideals or its human rights commitments.” Asylum requests have increased over 700 percent in other Central America countries and Mexico according to reports from the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
According to reports, during a media tour of the New Mexico facility, a senior official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the goal is to process the families and have them deported within 10 to 15 days in order to send a message back to their home countries that there are consequences for illegal immigration.
“While immigration and asylum processing should happen in a timely manner, this processing should not be rushed. The careful case by case conduct of these interviews is essential to ensure that the United States identifies women and children who may be at risk of trafficking, persecution or torture,” said Acer. “The multiple announcements of expedited processing and the decision to detain these women and children at a facility located hours away from cities where non-profit legal offices are located raises serious questions about the fairness of this process.”
Human Rights First has urged the Obama Administration and Congress to take other steps to address the situation of families and children at the border – in particular to use effective and fiscally prudent alternatives to detention, to support legal orientation presentations within days of arrival, to provide access to the U.N. Refugee Agency to monitor the process, and to increase resources for the immigration courts so that the removal process is timely. Human Rights First has cautioned against rushed asylum and immigration proceedings and the increased use of immigration detention.
“During their visits to the border, Congressional delegations should ask questions about the conduct of screening interviews, the implementation of asylum safeguards, plans for legal presentations and legal counsel, access by UNHCR to monitor the processing, access by NGOs and legal groups, and the use of cost-effective and more humane alternatives to detention rather than detaining families and children for prolonged periods of time,” urged Acer.
For more information, see Human Rights First’s recent report on addressing the situation of families and comprehensive blueprint and fact sheet of recommendations.