On International Women’s Day, Renewed Calls for End to Family Detention

Washington, D.C.—To mark International Women’s Day, Human Rights First today renewed its calls for the Obama Administration to end its policy of detaining asylum-seeking and refugee women and their children.

“The policy of detaining asylum-seeking children and their parents in order to deter future migration is unjust and inconsistent with American ideals,” said Human Rights First’s Olga Byrne. “Many of the mothers who have been subjected to the Obama Administration’s family detention policies have fled gender-based violence. Having taken the courageous step to stand up to their persecutors, protect their children, and seek asylum in the United States, they are met with prison guards and roll calls. If the United States seeks to be a global leader in women’s rights, we should first look to our policies at home, that allow women and their children to languish in detention.”

In the summer of 2014, the Obama Administration announced its intention to detain large numbers of asylum-seeking families from Central America as part of a deterrence-based strategy to stop other children and families from migrating to the United States.

Last month Human Rights First released a new summary of communications sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by some of the women detained at the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania who expressed concerns regarding the physical and mental wellbeing of their children, along with the responses they received from ICE officials who showed little regard for these concerns.

In one of the complaints released, a woman detained at Berks with her child wrote, “My daughter has been having diarrhea for about three weeks now and we went to see a doctor but they did not give us any medication not even serum. With every passing day her behavior is getting worse and the psychologist just tells me to be patient. I need you to give me adequate medication and that you give me the opportunity to take my case outside of here.” In response, an ICE agent simply told her to visit the medical department and, “You may disolve [sic] your case at any time and return to your country.”

The types of health and behavioral concerns raised by the mothers at Berks are not uncommon to children held in immigration detention. Human Rights First, along with pediatricians and a social worker, spoke with families at Berks in August 2015 and released a report of their findings titled, “Family Detention: Still Happening, Still Damaging.” The parents—including those who have been detained for two or three weeks—related symptoms of their children‘s behavioral regressions, depression, anxiety, and increased aggression toward both parents and other children.

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 March 8, 2016


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