IACHR Agrees to Hold Hearing on Central Americans Held in Detention

New York City—Human Rights First today praised the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for its decision to hold a hearing to address the ongoing human rights violations of children and families fleeing persecution and violence in Central America who are detained in the United States. Earlier this year Human Rights First sent a letter to the commission urging them to host a thematic hearing during which advocates could provide evidence on the processing and detention of children and families in the United States and offer recommendations aimed at bringing the United States into compliance with its human rights obligations

“The IACHR is poised to play a vital role in engaging the United States in a dialogue as it negotiates this complex set of issues,” said Human Rights First’s Olga Byrne. “The United States’ response to the global refugee crisis has long fallen short of its international human rights obligations. An IACHR hearing will provide an opportunity to delve into this issue and provide recommendations for how to realign our nation’s priorities.”

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the IACHR is a part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the Western hemisphere. The IACHR is authorized to examine allegations of human rights violations by all 35 members of the OAS, including the United States. The hearing will be held during the 157th session of the commission in April 2016. While the United States has asserted that the provisions of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Commission’s recommendations are not legally binding, an IACHR hearing and the ensuing recommendations nevertheless offer an additional avenue for advocacy and accountability with respect to refugee children and families seeking protection. The United States will have an opportunity to be present and articulate its positions.

The United States has long-employed the misguided policy of locking up vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, often in facilities with prison-like conditions, for months or years at a time. Research has shown that immigration detention causes additional harm to already traumatized asylum seekers and other migrants who have suffered previous trauma. More humane alternatives to detention, including case management and community-based programs, have been shown to be effective at securing appearance. Community-based alternatives may cost as little as 20 percent of the cost of detention.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of detention. The Human Rights First report, “Family Detention: Still Happening, Still Damaging,” found that, as detailed in medical and mental health research, detention—even for relatively short periods of time—is harmful to children and families. Leading pediatricians, physicians, and social workers have described the negative effects of immigration detention on children, which include behavioral regressions, depression, anxiety, and suicidality.


Published on March 3, 2016


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