In the midst of the politicized debate surrounding funding for the Department of Homeland Security, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) stepped up to the plate to make strong principled statements affirming that protecting refugees is an American ideal.
Thousands of Central Americans crossed the southern border last year, many of them seeking asylum. Concerned groups primarily focused on the large number of unaccompanied minors, a vulnerable group in need of protection—but paid less attention to the young children that came with their mothers but were locked away in detention.
That’s starting to change. In an article for The Hill, Blumenthal points out that the United States has often grappled with how to protect and integrate refugees into society, but became known as a beacon of freedom to the persecuted. Until recently, detaining asylum seeking families was a last resort, but now the Obama administration is going in the opposite direction. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is seeking to increase its family detention capacity from 100 beds to 3700, at high cost to the American taxpayer.
“The recent explosion in family detention is counter to the progress we have made and unacceptable for a nation of laws that is also a nation of immigrants. Congress must act to fix it,” Blumenthal urged. He will soon introduce legislation that compels asylum-seeker families to be released on bond, unless a judge determines they are a threat to the public or a flight risk.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also condemned family detention when discussing the DHS funding bill: “I strongly oppose the new funding for family detention. Incarcerating women and children fleeing violence runs contrary to our long history as a nation that offers refuge to those most in need.” He is still prepared to vote for the bill based on other concerns.
Another blow against family detention of asylum seekers came from a recent federal court decision. It bars the administration from detaining asylum seekers purely as a deterrent to other Central Americans—which has been the policy thus far.
The administration should heed these senators’ calls and change course so that the United States can remain a symbol of hope to all who flee persecution and violence.