Human Rights First Tours Dilley Detention Facility, Calls for Administration to End Family Detention

Dilley, TX – Following a tour today of the family detention facility in Dilley, Texas, Human Rights First called on the Obama Administration to end its policy of detaining women and children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America in jails. The Dilley facility currently holds 777 mothers and children, and is slated to hold up to 2,400 by the end of the month.

“It is heartbreaking to see mothers and young children locked up in detention in this country,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer, who participated in today’s tour of the detention facility along with representatives of other groups. “The administration’s detention policies are unjust and inconsistent with American ideals. The U.S. government’s detention of women and their children is doing damage to both the families who are seeking this country’s protection and to our country’s reputation as a refuge for the persecuted.”

U.S. immigration authorities adopted a policy of denying and opposing release from detention for asylum seekers based on a desire to deter others from migrating. The administration continues to try to justify this rationale to the courts, defending its months-long detention of mothers and children even when these asylum seekers were otherwise eligible for release on bond and presented no risk of flight based on their individual circumstances. Some of the families being held at Dilley have been in detention for up to ten months.

The Department of Homeland Security 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 roughly $260 million 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, costing only 17 cents to $17 per person a day. These effective and cost-efficient programs enjoy support across the political spectrum.

A female asylum seeker’s best hope of protection is in having a lawyer to represent 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.

At the Dilley facility today, Human Rights First legal experts met many mothers and children who do not have legal representation and, given their detention, will have great difficulty securing counsel.

Rather than continuing to detain women and children fleeing violence and persecution, the Obama Administration should:

  • End the detention of families and all attempts to base detention determinations on the desire to send a message to others;
  • 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 immigration detained; and,
  • Use case management and community based alternatives to detention in cases where additional measures are needed to assure appearance.

“The mothers and children held at this facility face a wide array of obstacles, from challenges securing counsel to the day-in day-out impact of detention on their children.  It is simply a bad idea to hold children and their mothers in immigration detention. After a weekend spent celebrating Mother’s Day with my own family, visiting mothers and children in U.S. immigration detention was a surreal experience,” said Acer. “The Obama Administration’s policy of putting mothers and children into immigration detention is misguided, and runs afoul of U.S. human rights and refugee protection commitments. We need to put a stop to this policy.”


Published on May 12, 2015


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