Medical and Mental Health Experts Urge the Ninth Circuit Court to Uphold Flores Ruling to End Family Immigration Detention

New York City – Human Rights First, along with Munger, Tolles & Olson, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the case of Flores v. Lynch, the California case challenging the Obama Administration’s practice of detaining immigrant families and unaccompanied minors. Requested by the plaintiffs’ counsel, Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, the brief details the harm incurred by children who are detained under current conditions in the three immigration detention facilities in Dilley and Karnes City, Texas and Berks, Pennsylvania. Today’s brief was filed on behalf of medical and mental health professional organizations including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and National Association of Social Workers.

“Detention exacerbates existing health problems, re-traumatizes asylum-seekers fleeing traumatic experiences, and inflicts new psychological damage. Minors are especially sensitive to these harms and have been found to frequently develop mental health problems and developmental disorders in confinement,” wrote the medical and mental health experts.

In response to an influx of Central American immigrants and refugees at the southern United States border in 2014, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) adopted a policy of detaining mothers and their children seeking protection in the United States. In July 2015, plaintiffs successfully challenged the administration’s detention policy, resulting in a court order and deadline for the U.S. government to comply with standards established in a 1997 settlement agreement that established national standards for the detention, release, and treatment of migrant children and families. This settlement has required the federal government to minimize harm to children by placing each child in the “least restrictive” setting appropriate to their age and needs.

The California District court ruling requires that children held in immigration detention 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. The U.S. government has filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit court, making clear that the administration and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) still wish to use immigration detention to “dis-incentivize” or deter families from seeking protection in this country.

In today’s brief, medical and mental health professionals urge the government to comply with its obligations to respect the unique vulnerability of children, first and foremost by limiting their time in detention and only housing them in child-appropriate facilities that will reduce harm to their physical and mental health. As currently operated, the family detention facilities are incapable of meeting the government’s obligations for the health and well-being of the children in their custody.

In a report, “Family Detention: Still Happening, Still Damaging,” Human Rights First found that the Obama Administration’s continuing operation of family detention facilities negatively impacts the mental and physical health of children and their parents. The report, based on visits to family detention facilities, finds that detention—even lasting for less than two weeks rather than months—is harmful to children and families.

A broad array of voices have called on the administration to end the practice of detaining families, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Bar Association, Catholic and Lutheran Bishops, and 178 Members of Congress and 35 Senators. Human Rights First continues to recommend that

  • The Obama Administration should end family detention once and for all.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should refer all families directly into removal proceedings before an immigration judge rather than invoking expedited removal.
  • DHS and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) should implement community-based alternative to detention programs and legal orientation presentations, and increase access to counsel.

Published on February 24, 2016


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