On International Day of Families, Administration Urged to End Deportation Raids, Detention of Women and Children Fleeing Violence
Washington, D.C.—In recognition of International Day of Families on today, Human Rights First today renewed its calls on the Obama Administration to abandon its policy of detaining children and families. The anniversary comes amid reports that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will begin a month-long series of raids aimed at detaining and deporting Central American mothers and their children, many of whom entered the United States to flee violence and persecution and may not have had a fair opportunity to articulate their claims for protection.
“For the past two years, the Obama Administration has responded to the Central American refugee crisis with a deterrence-based approach of unnecessary detention and harmful enforcement tactics, such as raids in the community,” said Human Rights First’s Olga Byrne. “Instead, the administration should implement a refugee reception and protection response, while also working with regional partners to promote economic development, human rights, and security in the region so that people can safely stay home.”
Many families who have received removal orders—and may therefore be targets of the deportation raids—have not had a full merits hearing. Recent government data shows that 83 percent of removal orders issued against families were issued in absentia, and 97 percent of those in absentia orders were issued against families without legal representation.
Moreover, detention is harmful to children’s health, as a growing body of medical literature explains. Earlier this year Human Rights First released a new summary of communications between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and some of the mothers detained at the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania who expressed concerns regarding the physical and mental well-being of their children, along with the responses they received from ICE officials who showed little regard for these concerns.
Community-based alternatives to detention have been proven to support appearance at hearings, while also providing families with social supports, when needed. Legal counsel is also key to ensuring due process and compliance with immigration proceedings. When mothers and children were represented by counsel, they appeared for hearings 98 percent of the time.
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, and many groups have similarly called for the administration to immediately end deportation raids against families. Human Rights First also recommends that:
- The Obama Administration work with regional partners to improve refugee protection in the region and to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to address the Central American refugee crisis by improving conditions in Central America so that children, families, and other individuals can safely remain in their countries of origin;
- The Obama Administration and Congress should work together to improve U.S. reception, protection, and processing of individuals seeking U.S. protection, assuring that legal counsel is provided in asylum and immigration proceedings, particularly for indigent and vulnerable populations;
- The Obama Administration should immediately end plans to conduct raids in communities against children and families, many of whom have been unrepresented and have not had a fair opportunity to pursue their claims for protection;
- 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; and
- DHS and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) should implement community-based alternatives to detention programs and legal orientation presentations at the border, and increase access to counsel.