Following a decision by a Texas judge blocking the issuance of licenses for family immigration detention facilities in Karnes and Dilley, Texas, Human Rights First renewed its calls on the Obama Administration to end its policy of detaining women and their children. Judge Karin Crump of the Travis County District Court in Austin, Texas ruled against the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (TDFP), as well as GEO and CoreCivic, the two private prison companies that operate the family detention centers, finding that the TDFP could not issue childcare facility licenses to the Karnes County or South Texas (Dilley) family detention centers.
“Today’s ruling is a recognition that family detention facilities are not child care centers and are simply not appropriate places to house children,” said Human Rights First’s Robyn Barnard. “Detention is harmful to both children and their parents. The United States should end its failed policy of sending families seeking asylum to immigration detention facilities.”
Human Rights First has long-documented the negative mental and physical health impacts of detention on children and their parents. Leading pediatricians, physicians, and social workers have found that detention, even for short periods of time, can lead to depression, anxiety, behavioral regressions, and suicidality in children.
The ruling is consistent with the decision of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services earlier this year to revoke and not renew the childcare operating license for the Berks County family detention center; the Berks facility operator continues to fight that decision. At present, the families detained at Berks have experienced an average of over 200 days of detention. Many of the children at Berks may experience their second Christmas in detention at the end of this month.
“Now that none of the three family detention centers in the United States has an operating license consistent with the requirements under the Flores Settlement Agreement, all three family detention centers should cease operations and the families detained in Dilley, Karnes, and Pennsylvania should be released and allowed to seek asylum before an immigration court,” noted Barnard.
Not only is the use of detention harmful to children, it is also exceedingly expensive and not necessary. Government data show that families who are not detained and have legal representation are in compliance with their court appearance obligations 98 percent of the time. For cases where additional support is needed to assure appearance for immigration appointments, immigration authorities can use alternative measures that rely on case management and community support. Human Rights First urges DHS and the Executive Office for Immigration Review to implement community-based alternative to detention programs and legal orientation presentations, increase access to counsel, and implement Legal Orientation Programs at the border for families and other immigrants and asylum-seekers.
In addition to immediately ending the policy of detaining women and children, the Department of Homeland Security should refer all families directly into removal proceedings before an immigration judge rather than choosing to invoke the flawed tool of expedited removal.
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.
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