Federal Family Detention Ruling Upholds American Ideals

Washington, D.C. — Human Right First today praised a federal court ruling that orders an end to the Obama Administration’s flawed policy of holding children and their mothers in immigration detention facilities. California District Judge Dolly Gee ruled that the Obama Administration’s family detention policy violates a nearly two decades old court settlement regarding the detention of migrant children.

“The court’s ruling makes clear that the administration should simply stop locking up children and their mothers in immigration detention facilities,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer.  “We urge the Obama Administration to immediately comply with this ruling, and to decline to appeal. There is no good reason to pursue an appeal in order to preserve the opportunity to resurrect an unjust and rights-violating policy in the future. Not only is detention damaging to children, but asylum seekers should not generally be detained. Locking up families seeking asylum is inconsistent with American ideals and sets a poor example for the rest of the world.”

Judge Gee’s ruling requires that children be released without unnecessary delay to a family member in order of preference beginning with parents, including the accompanying parent who was detained with the child. Accompanying parents “shall be released with the [child] in a non-discriminatory manner in accordance with applicable laws and regulations unless after an individualized custody determination the parent is determined to pose a significant flight risk, or a threat to others or the national security, and the flight risk or threat cannot be mitigated by an appropriate bond or conditions of release.”

In addition, the ruling found that children cannot be detained in unlicensed or secure facilities. The court’s decision makes clear that the family detention facilities are in fact “secure” facilities. The government must also propose standards for ensuring that temporary custody in Border Patrol facilities complies with the settlement agreement’s provision that they be “safe and sanitary.”

The ruling follows more than 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.

Several hundred children and their mothers were reportedly released in recent days, although more than one hundred newly arrived families were sent in to detention. About 1700 children and their parents are reported to be locked up immigration detention currently. Human Rights First notes that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has previously indicated that it plans to continue to send women and children to immigration detention, where they would be held for weeks or in some cases potentially 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.


Published on July 25, 2015


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