Response to Surge of Unaccompanied Minors and Families at the U.S.-Mexican Border Must Reflect American Ideals

Washington, D.C.  – In response to the Obama Administration’s announcement that it will detain more immigrants and expedite cases of those who have crossed the U.S. – Mexican border, Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer has released the following statement:

“As the U.S. government seeks to find solutions to this unprecedented surge of unaccompanied minors and families at the border, we must not forget our national commitment to an immigration and asylum system of integrity that is consistent with American ideals and our obligation to protect refugees. The United States should not address this surge by further increasing detention for asylum seekers – resorting again to this costly tool that deprives those who seek this country’s protection of their liberty. Instead, it should launch an effective initiative utilizing alternatives to detention including community support programs rather than sending families and children into immigration detention. These alternatives have proven effective, fiscally prudent, and are more humane. The Department of Homeland Security should also make sure that all of its policies and practices safeguard access to asylum; protecting the persecuted should be a top priority. Families and adults seeking asylum should not be rushed through the process. The government should facilitate access to counsel and legal orientation.”

Human Rights First welcomes the U.S. government’s increased attention to addressing the rule of law and impunity deficiencies that are prompting so many to flee in search of protection. However, further escalating reliance on detention, which has long been the default tool used by immigration authorities, would be exceedingly expensive and ineffective. Numerous studies have documented that case management, supervision, monitoring or alternative measures lead to high court appearance rates. These solutions are fiscally prudent, effective and reflect American ideals. Alternatives to detention have been endorsed by a wide spectrum of groups and are increasingly turned to in criminal justice systems because they are highly effective measures that can help meet the government’s objective to secure appearance, while mitigating much of the immense human and fiscal costs of institutional detention. The most recent statistics available show that individuals in an alternatives to detention program attended their final hearings 97.4 percent of the time and complied with final orders 85 percent of the time. The government should also turn to community based alternatives to address the specific needs of families and children.

Human Rights First recently visited key border points, border patrol stations, and immigration detention facilities in Texas, Arizona, and California, including the Rio Grande Valley. The research trip informed recommendations, as summarized in recommendations released today, on dealing with families and children crossing the border. These recommendations include:

  • Children and families should not be detained; when they are held in custody it should be only for a limited period of time.
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should use alternatives to detention, rather than detention, when it is determined that additional measures are needed to support appearance in a case.
  • DHS should ensure all safeguards designed to identify potential asylum seekers are effectively implemented by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should revise its credible fear training guidance, conduct interviews in person, and hold these interviews within 14 days of arrival but only after asylum seekers have recovered from their travel.  Among the cases it should closely monitor are those relating to women fleeing gender-based harm.
  • Immigration courts should be staffed to eliminate current backlogs and for hearings to happen in a timely manner, but EOIR should not rush the immigration removal process, which would undermine access to justice.

Today, on World Refugee Day, we celebrate America’s tradition of providing protection to the persecuted and urge the U.S. government to take steps that do not undermine our long-standing obligations to those seeking protection in our country.

For more information, see Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Protect Refugees and Prevent Abuse at the Border,” and fact sheets, “Key Statistics and Findings on Asylum Protection Requests at the U.S.–Mexico Border,” and  “How to Manage the Increase in Families at the Border.”


Published on June 20, 2014


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