DHS to Release Women and Children Seeking Asylum from Detention

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today said that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision to release from immigration detention of women and children who fled violence and persecution in Central America and are seeking asylum in the United States is an important step towards implementing the recent reforms announced by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson in June.

“These releases are long overdue and a huge step forward. Many of these women and children have been detained for months, and sometimes over a year,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “This move confirms that the administration has recognized that its strategy of holding families in detention for many months was flawed. Asylum seekers, many of whom are fleeing violence and persecution, should not generally be held in immigration detention.”

These reforms come as Secretary Johnson testifies this morning before the House Judiciary Committee. In his written statement for the hearing this morning, Johnson stated that “once a family has established a credible fear or reasonable fear of persecution or torture, long-term detention is an inefficient use of resources and should be discontinued.” At a daily cost of $343 per person, Human Rights First had estimated that DHS would spend an estimated $463 million this year if it had fulfilled its previously announced plans to expand capacity to 3,700 detention beds for families. This amount is in addition to the roughly $2 billion already spent on immigration detention each year.

By contrast, community-based support programs and other alternative measures that are proven to secure appearance for immigration hearings and deportation are much more fiscally prudent. Effective and cost-efficient programs enjoy support across the political spectrum. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should launch more community-based alternative programs that focus on case management, rather than relying overwhelmingly on the automatic use of intrusive ankle bracelets.

The release of families from immigration detention follows over a year of advocacy for the closure of family detention facilities by Human Rights First and other groups, including faith-based communities, refugee advocates, women’s groups and children’s groups, bar associations, pro bono attorneys, and members of Congress.  In addition to issuing several reports outlining effective and rights-respecting strategies for the administration to adopt in addressing protection requests at the U.S. southern border, Human Rights First has also coordinated collaborative efforts to increase legal access for detained families and unaccompanied children.

About 200 children and their mothers were reportedly released in recent days. More than 2100 remained in immigration detention as of Monday, according to ICE. Human Rights First notes that DHS will continue to send hundreds of women and children to immigration detention, sometimes for weeks at a time or longer.

As detailed in Human Rights First’s recent report, detention creates many obstacles for asylum-seeking families and negatively impacts the mental health and development of children.  Rather than sending women and children seeking asylum into immigration detention, the Obama Administration should expand the use of community-based, case-management focused, alternatives to detention and support staffing for the immigration courts and asylum office, as well as legal counsel for asylum seekers and other immigration detainees.

“We look forward to seeing additional steps towards implementing the measures announced last month, as well as additional reforms” added Acer. “We urge the administration to continue to monitor and further reform its policies and practices relating to immigration detention and the detention of families and other asylum seekers. Holding children and families in detention for any amount of time does untold damage.”


Published on July 14, 2015


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