House Members Urge DHS to Abandon Family Immigration Detention

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today praised members of the House of Representatives who called on Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) Jeh Johnson to end the practice of detaining families who have fled violence and persecution in Central America. The call came in a letter spearheaded by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), and Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) and signed by 136 members of the House.

“Detaining mothers and children who are seeking safety in our country goes against America’s long history of protecting the persecuted,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer, who recently returned from a family detention facility in Dilley, Texas. “The negative impact of detention on the mental health of asylum seekers and on children has been well-documented by health care professionals.”

DHS is slated to spend $345.3 million in fiscal year 2016 to fund the escalation of family detention. This amount is in addition to the roughly $2 billion already spent on immigration detention each year. The Dilley facility, run by Corrections Corporation of America, will cost the U.S. government over $300 a day per person held in the facility, amounting to over $260 million each year.

By contrast, community-based support programs and other alternative measures are much more fiscally prudent, costing only 17 cents to $17 per person a day, and can be employed in any cases where additional support is needed to secure appearance for immigration hearings and deportation.  Alternative measures enjoy support across the political spectrum.

An asylum seeker’s best hope of protection is in having a lawyer to represent him or her in immigration court proceedings. Yet it is much more difficult for immigrants to secure legal counsel when they are held in immigration detention. Without an attorney, a mother has almost no chance of receiving asylum. According to recent TRAC data, 98.5 percent of lawyer-less women with children were deported, even when the government had determined they had a credible fear of persecution if returned home. With a lawyer, their ability to prove their cases increases significantly.

Rather than continuing its flawed policy of detaining women and children fleeing violence and persecution, the Obama Administration should:

  • End the detention of families seeking asylum;
  • Remove all impediments to counsel, allow pro bono attorneys to use the tools they need to facilitate legal representation and provide funding for the representation of detained immigrants; and,
  • Use case management and community based alternatives, rather than detention, in cases where additional measures are needed to assure appearance.

“Representatives Lofgren, Roybal-Allard, and Gutiérrez should be applauded for their tireless work on behalf of the women and children who are trapped in this deeply flawed system,” said Acer.


Published on May 27, 2015


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