Senators Call for an End to Family Detention

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First welcomed today’s call to end the misguided policy of detaining families seeking asylum in the United States.  The call came in a letter from 33 senators to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

“We applaud these 33 Senators for championing this country’s commitment to providing refuge to the persecuted,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer.  “The United States, a global leader in protecting refugees, should not be sending women and children seeking its protection into immigration detention facilities. Detaining mothers and children who are fleeing violence and persecution not only violates American ideals, but it is also a costly and inefficient use of government resources.”

Today’s letter comes off the heels of a similar call from House Democrats last week, in which 136 members of Congress, led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, urged Johnson to immediately end the practice of family detention. As the senators today noted, “We appreciate all that you have done to improve conditions at family detention facilities, however we do not believe there is any system of mass family detention that will work or is consistent with our moral and historic commitment to provide safe and humane refuge to those fleeing persecution.”

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. One facility in Dilley, Texas, run by Corrections Corporation of America, will cost the U.S. government about  $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. 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:

  • Immediately 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.

“These women and children are trapped in the deeply flawed U.S. immigration detention system. 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. “We commend Senators Leahy and Murray for their leadership in raising these concerns with the administration, as well as Senate Minority Leader Reid. As an organization with a New York office, we also applaud the commitment of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand to ensuring that this country lives up to its commitment to protecting the persecuted.”

Human Rights First will host a media briefing call today at 1pm EST that will examine the ever-changing landscaping shaping this story, the impact of the recent Congressional concern, the psychological impact of detention on children, as well recommendations for how the administration can correct its course in light of the growing concern about its treatment of women and children seeking this country’s protection.


Published on June 2, 2015


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