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Immigrants’ Rights Advocates Call for Moratorium on Deportation of Refugee Women and Children at Artesia Detention Center Until Basic Due Process Needs Are Met

Immigrants' rights lawyers and advocates called on the government to halt deportations of women and children in custody at the remote Artesia family detention center in New Mexico, where the U.S. government began warehousing Central American children and women three weeks ago. A recording of the press call is available here.

“It was clear that the women and children were confused, intimidated, and had not been given an adequate opportunity to express their fear until deportation was imminent,” said Royce Murray,director of policy, National Immigrant Justice Center. “Forcing vulnerable families through an expedited deportation process without access to lawyers is resulting in egregious due process violations and denying individuals' rights to seek asylum protection. It is inevitable that the U.S. government is deporting people to places where they face persecution and violence.”

Michelle Brané, director, Migrant Rights and Justice, Women's Refugee Commission, said, “Plain and simple, family detention is an inhumane and damaging process. It profoundly and irreversibly affects the physical and mental health of children and breaks down parent-child relationships. At Artesia, our concerns go beyond conditions. The administration's intent to deport everyone as quickly as possible for optics is sacrificing critical due process procedures and sending families — mothers, babies, and children — back, despite clear concerns for their safety in violation of U.S. and international law.”

The advocates recounted pervasive confusion among women and children over how to make phone calls and find lawyers from inside the detention center, which effectively cut them off from the outside world and any meaningful opportunity to navigate the complex asylum process. A slip of paper provided to individuals when as they arrived at the facility contained only three lawyers' names, and officers denied detainees access to phones as punishment when children misbehaved. A U.S. Department of Homeland Security officer told advocates that three families had been hastily pulled from a Guatemala-bound deportation flight on Tuesday because they expressed a fear of persecution in their home country.

“What the U.S. government is doing is unconscionable,” said Cecillia Wang, director, ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. “It is an affront to America's values and laws to return immigrants who are fleeing for their lives while depriving them of due process, and to force vulnerable children to make their case without a lawyer. The government should suspend deportations from this facility as long as there are not legitimate and fair ways for people there to seek asylum and protection.”

The two on-site visits on Tuesday — one by advocates and another by a team of lawyers — were allowed only after a Los Angeles federal district court judge last week ordered the federal government to allow rights groups to have access to detained children in Nogales, AZ. Within 24 hours of the order, the federal government transferred the detainees to other facilities, but access to Artesia was allowed.

The legal battle stems from a decades-old case, now titled Orantes-Hernandez v. Holder, that resulted in a federal court order protecting the due process rights of detained people from El Salvador.

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) is lead counsel in the Orantes case along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Immigrants' Rights Project, ACLU of Southern California, and Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.

“What we witnessed at the Artesia facility is horrific. Given the egregious due process violations, the administration must cease any deportations from Artesia until we can guarantee that each individual's due process rights are being safeguarded,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director, National Immigration Law Center. “We must find alternatives to detention for these mothers, children and families. Congress should also approve the administration's supplemental funding request without legislative changes, as soon as possible.”

A supplemental funding bill introduced this week by Sen. Mikulski (D-MD) requests $124.5 million to provide access to counsel for unaccompanied children seeking refuge at the southern border and critical resources for the overburdened immigration court system.

Among the organizations that participated in the Artesia detention center tours were: ACLU of New Mexico; Catholic Charities Legal Services of Las Cruces, NM; Detention Watch Network; First Focus; Human Rights First; Human Rights Watch; National Immigration Forum; National Immigrant Justice Center; National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; New Mexico Immigration Law Center; Women's Refugee Commission; and Young Women United.

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