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  • Necessary to End Family Detention & Reform Procedures, Agree 188 Organizations

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    As women and children seek safety in the United States, they are increasingly detained--a situation that exacerbates their trauma and abridges their rights. 188 organizations--includiing faith-based groups, civil rights advocates, educators, and legal experts--are calling for the following reforms:

    • Families must not be subject to detention except in exceptional circumstances.
    • Families must receive full due process at the border.
    • Families should not be detained for purposes of deterrence.
    • Families should not be separated.
    • DHS should use other tools besides detention to mitigate flight risk where there is a demonstrated concern.

    Dear Mr. President:

    In light of recent developments and ongoing negotiations in litigation on the detention of immigrant families, we, the undersigned 188 immigrants' rights, faith-based, civil rights, human rights, survivors’ rights, and criminal justice reform organizations, international educators, and legal service providers, urge your administration to end the practice of family detention.

    Since the expansion of family detention a year ago, growing evidence continues to demonstrate that mothers and children detained in the Karnes County (TX), Dilley (TX), and Berks County (PA) family detention facilities are largely seeking protection in the United States. Detention has had a traumatic impact on the mental health and well-being of these families, and on children in particular, especially given the trauma they have already faced in Central America. These mental health effects are compounded where families have suffered detention that is prolonged and indefinite in nature. A growing number of Members of Congress have voiced their opposition to the detention of families, and a steady stream of news articles and human rights reports illustrate that families cannot be detained humanely.

    In 2009 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stopped detaining families at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center (TX) following litigation and human rights reports decrying the practice. Today the status of two different lawsuits challenging current family detention policies should point to the same conclusion. In February 2015 a D.C. District Court issued a nationwide preliminary injunction in R.I.L.R. v. Johnson finding that the government cannot detain asylum-seeking mothers and children from Central America as a means to deter others from fleeing to the United States, and required that the government conduct individualized determinations to evaluate whether a family poses a danger or a flight risk that would require detention. More recently, negotiations are currently underway in litigation to enforce the Flores Settlement, in which plaintiffs argue that current family detention practices in secure and unlicensed facilities violate the longstanding settlement agreement in Flores v. Meese, which protects the rights of children in immigration custody and generally favors their release.

    These developments make clear that DHS should not continue current practices of holding parents and children together in confinement. DHS must bring its detention policies into line with domestic law as well as our international obligations. As your administration charts a course forward, we urge you to uphold the following principles:

    Families must not be subject to detention except in exceptional circumstances.

    The dramatic expansion of family detention has resulted in many mothers and children being detained at a high cost to their mental health and physical well-being. Detention of mothers and children has been extended even after they pass credible fear and reasonable fear screening interviews, first through a policy of no-bond and no-release for virtually all detained families – a policy which remains in place for certain families not covered by the RILR injunction – and currently through DHS’ imposition of prohibitively high bond amounts. DHS has broad authority to release from detention vulnerable populations who do not pose a flight or public safety risk either on recognizance or, where necessary, with additional measures such as alternatives to detention. These should include case management services to ensure that families are informed of their legal rights and obligations and receive appropriate referrals to social and legal services.

    Families must receive full due process at the border.

    Since last summer many Central American mothers and their children fleeing violence have been subjected to expedited removal and “mandatory detention,” often in remote locations that severely inhibit access to counsel, due process, and protection. Moreover, there is evidence that many migrants are unable to express a fear of return during expedited removal at the border because Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers fail to ask questions about protection needs or accurately capture responses to such questions. DHS is now “reinstating” prior orders of removal against mothers who are apprehended with their children and subjecting these families to detention. Instead of placement into expedited or reinstatement of removal, all families should be placed in full hearings before an immigration judge under section 240 of the Immigration and Nationality Act - an essential due process safeguard against deporting mothers and children to violence and persecution.

    Families should not be detained for purposes of deterrence.

    Detaining one family to stop another from coming to the United States is illegal, unjust, and ineffective. The district court in R.I.L.R. rejected the U.S. government’s arguments that family detention was justified as a means to deter future migration, and instead required the government to assess whether detention is necessary to mitigate an individual’s flight or public safety risk. Further, the use of detention to dissuade a mother, child, or other individual from seeking asylum is inconsistent with U.S. obligations under international norms.

    Families should not be separated.

    The Flores Settlement applies to all children in DHS custody, including those detained with their parents, and favors a policy of release and reunification except for narrow exceptions. Wherever possible, children should be reunited with a parent or legal guardian. In order to effectuate the rights of children under the Flores Settlement, in the case of families apprehended at the border, DHS should release both parent and child except where extreme and unusual circumstances would necessitate otherwise. Compliance with the Flores Settlement must not result in a parent being detained while a child is released.

    DHS should use other tools besides detention to mitigate flight risk where there is a demonstrated concern.

    Families apprehended at the border generally have relatives or other strong community ties in the United States to whom they could be released during the pendency of their removal proceedings. Where an individualized assessment demonstrates that a family poses a flight risk, DHS should turn to community-based alternatives to detention (ATD) – not detention – to mitigate that risk. In fact, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently issued a Request for Proposals specifically for case management ATD programs appropriate for families. As detailed in your FY 2016 budget request, current ATD programs save taxpayer dollars, costing approximately $5 per day compared to $343 per day for a family detention bed. Current ATDs have high compliance rates, with 99% appearance at immigration court hearings and 84% compliance with removal orders.1

    The writing on the wall is clear – DHS should not detain children and their parents in jail-like facilities. We urge you to undo the harsh family detention policies set in place in summer 2014 and implement a more just and humane approach. Family detention should not be your legacy. Now is the time to end it once and for all.

    For more information, please contact Katharina Obser of the Women’s Refugee Commission (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 202/750-8597) or Joanne Lin of the American Civil Liberties Union (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 202/675-2317).


    National Organizations

    Advancing Justice - AAJC

    Alliance for a Just Society

    Alliance for Citizenship

    Alliance of Baptists

    America's Voice Education Fund

    American Civil Liberties Union

    American Friends Service Committee

    American Immigration Council

    American Immigration Lawyers Association

    Americans for Immigrant Justice

    ASISTA Immigration Assistance

    Bend the Arc Jewish Action

    Casa Esperanza

    Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc (CLINIC)

    Center for Community Change

    Center for Constitutional Rights

    Center for Gender and Refugee Studies

    Center for Popular Democracy

    Church of Scientology National Affairs Office

    Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness

    Church World Service

    Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

    Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)

    Conference of Major Superiors of Men

    Council on American-Islamic Relations

    Detention Watch Network

    Disciples Home Missions, U.S. and Canada

    Disciples Women, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

    DREAM Action Coalition

    Fair Immigration Reform Movement

    Farmworker Justice

    First Focus

    Franciscan Action Network

    Franciscans for Justice


    Grassroots Leadership


    Human Rights Defense Center

    Human Rights First

    Human Rights Watch

    Immigrant Defense Project

    Immigrant Justice Corps

    In The Public Interest

    International Rescue Committee (IRC)

    Jesuit Conference, National Advocacy Office of the Jesuits of the United States

    Just Detention International

    Justice Strategies

    Kids in Need of Defense

    Latin America Working Group

    Leadership Conference of Women Religious

    Leadership Team of the Felician Sisters of North America

    League of United Latin American Citizens

    Legal Momentum

    Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

    NAFSA: Association of International Educators

    National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities

    National Alliance to End Sexual Violence

    National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

    National Council of La Raza (NCLR)

    National Education Association

    National Immigrant Justice Center

    National Immigration Forum

    National Immigration Law Center

    National Immigration Project of the NLG

    National Korean American Service and Education Consortium

    National Latin@ Network of Casa de Esperanza

    National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

    National LGBTQ Task Force

    NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

    Office of JPIC, Comboni Missionaries, N. American Province

    Physicians for Human Rights

    PICO National Network

    Redwood Justice Fund

    Reform Immigration FOR America

    Refugee & Immigration Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

    Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)

    Refugee and Immigration Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

    Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

    Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

    Sisters of Mercy South Central Community

    SOA Watch

    Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

    T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

    Tahirih Justice Center

    The Advocates for Human Rights

    The Episcopal Church

    The Episcopal Network for Economic Justice

    The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

    U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

    United Church of Christ

    United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

    United We Dream

    Washington Office on Latin America

    We Belong Together

    Women's Refugee Commission

    Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights at the University of Chicago


    State/Local Organizations

    African Services Committee


    Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice

    Alliance San Diego

    Asian Law Alliance

    Austin Immigrant Right Coalition

    Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera

    Bellevue/ NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, NYU Center for Health and Human Rights

    Cambodian Women Networking Asso.


    Causa Oregon

    Central American Resource Center (CARECEN-LA)

    Central West Justice Center

    Cherokee Family Violence Center


    Church Council of Greater Seattle

    Coaliton of Latino Leaders--CLILA

    Colectiva Legal del Pueblo

    Coloradans For Immigrant Rights, a project of the AFSC CO

    Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto

    Conversations With Friends (Minnesota)

    El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos

    Faith Action Network

    Families for Freedom

    Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project

    Franciscan Peace Center

    Friends of Broward Detainees

    Georgia Detention Watch

    Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights

    Global Family Legal Services

    Greater Reading Immigration Project

    Her Justice

    HIAS Pennsylvania

    Human Rights Iniative of North Texas

    Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

    Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project

    Immigrants' Rights Clinic of Boston University School of Law

    Immigration Center for Women and Children

    Immigration Taskforce, Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

    Immigration Team of the MN Conference of the UCC

    Jewish Community Action


    Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts

    Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center

    Lane County Legal Aid and Advocacy Center

    Latin American Coalition

    Latino Education & Training Institute

    MAIZ San Jose

    Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition

    Mayflower Immigration Team

    Michigan Immigrant Rights Center

    Migrant Power Movement

    Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women

    MN Conference of UCC Immigration Team

    NE MN Synod Task Force on Immigration, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers Justice of the ELCA

    Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest

    New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia

    New York Immigration Coalition

    Northwest Immigrant Rights Project


    Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish

    Pangea Legal Services

    Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center

    Philadelphia JACL

    Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada

    Promise Arizona

    Queer Detainee Empowerment Project


    RAISE: Revolutionizing Asian American Immigrant Stories on the East Coast

    Reformed Church of Highland Park, NJ

    Rights for All People (RAP)

    Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network

    Russian-speaking Community Council of Manhattan and the Bronx, Inc. (RCCMB)

    Sanctuary for Families

    SEIU 521

    Seattle Human Rights Commission

    Ser Familia, Inc.

    Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN)

    Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center

    Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, Iowa

    State Bar of New Mexico, Immigration Law Section

    Stop The Checkpoints

    Students Advocates for Higher Education at San Jose State University

    Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition

    UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic

    Unitarian Universalist PA Legislative Advocacy Network

    United Methodist Women

    Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights

    Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO)

    Voz Hispana Cambio Comunitario

    Workers Defense Project

    Young Immigrants in Action – SC

    tags: Detention