Members of Congress Call for an End to Family Detention

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First welcomed today’s call to end the cruel practice of family immigration detention made by a number of Members of Congress during a press conference today. The press conference, led by Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to end family immigration detention, stressing that seeking protection from persecution and violence through the U.S. asylum system is not an illegal act.

“We applaud Representatives Lofgren, Gutiérrez, Roybal-Allard, and their colleagues for championing the basic rights of asylum seekers trapped in the deeply flawed U.S. immigration detention system,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Detaining mothers and children who are seeking this country’s protection not only violates American ideals, but it is also a costly and inefficient use of government resources. We urge the Obama Administration to immediately end its policy of detaining women and children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America.”

Representatives Lofgren, Gutiérrez, and Roybal-Allard called on DHS to immediately release the mothers and children from Central America who are currently locked up in immigration detention, noting that the administration should instead use less costly and more effective alternatives to detention including supervised release.

Expressing concern that “[w]e jail mothers and children as a kind of political balancing act,”  Representative Gutiérrez said that we should “all be appalled as Americans” by the detention of mothers and children.

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 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.

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 to detention in cases where additional measures are needed to assure appearance.

“The United States, a global leader in protecting the persecuted, should not be sending women and children seeking its protection into immigration detention facilities. As the Members all made clear, seeking asylum is not a crime – it is our law.  Providing refuge to the persecuted is a cherished American ideal and a legal obligation rooted in treaties drafted in the Wake of World War II,” added Acer.


Published on May 21, 2015


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