Senate Hearing Should Examine Effective, Humane Approaches to Dealing with Families and Unaccompanied Children at the Border

Washington, D.C. – In a statement today submitted to ­­­the Senate Appropriations Committee, Human Rights First called on Congress to address the surge at the border in a holistic, effective way as it debates President Obama’s emergency supplemental request. The statement stresses the need for increased resources to address conditions prompting flight, the needs of children and refugees, immigration court delays, and legal information and counsel, but also notes that some aspects of the strategy reflected in the president’s request set a poor example for the rest of the world. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson will testify at today’s hearing on the administration’s response to the unprecedented influx of families and children.

“As President Obama and Congress try to address this crisis, they should do so in ways that address the conditions prompting flight, strengthen the integrity of the immigration and asylum systems, reflect American ideals, and uphold our nation’s obligation to protect refugees,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. While the administration’s proposal includes provisions to increase resources for agencies handling the influx, additional resources are needed for the immigration courts, legal orientation and counsel, and to address the violence in Central America. The Obama Administration’s proposal could also do serious damage by further increasing detention for children, families, and asylum seekers. There are far better and less expensive alternatives that address the multiple needs of these families and the government’s need to assure appearance for court and deportation.

In a speech last night, President Obama stated that there is not enough capacity for detention. “A further increase in immigration detention – to hold mothers and children in immigration detention – is not the answer. The real problem is the failure to adequately resource our immigration courts and to use alternatives to detention in a more systemic way. Alternative monitoring measures have been proven to be effective, humane, and fiscally prudent,” said Acer.

Earlier this year Human Rights First conducted research in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and other key southern border areas in Arizona and California to study the situation of asylum seekers crossing the border. Based on the organization’s research, Congress should appropriate funds to:

  • Address the imbalance in funding for the courts and address the backlog nationwide. If funding simply redirects immigration court resources to detained border cases it will only exacerbate national backlogs in the non-detained dockets.
  • Fund an Alternatives to Detention (ATD) Initiative that would be more fiscally prudent and effective, rather than holding children and families in immigration detention for prolonged periods.
  • Assure adequate resources for Health and Human Services to have the capacity to both meet the needs of unaccompanied children and refugees.
  • Increase access to legal information and counsel early in the process to assure fairness and accurate information, as well as saving money and creating efficiencies in adjudication by reducing processing time spent in detention.
  • Maintain protection in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVRA) that are crucial for the screening of the unaccompanied children for trafficking.

”Proposals to increase family detention or rush cases through the process would be out of step with the United States’ legacy of protecting those fleeing persecution, trafficking, and other serious human rights violations,” noted Human Rights First in its statement.

For more information or to speak with Acer, contact Corinne Duffy at [email protected] or 202-370-3319.


Published on July 10, 2014


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