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More than 160 Groups Condemn President Obama's Expansion of Family Detention

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, The Women's Refugee Commission, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations write President Obama and congressional leadership to call for an end to family detention in Dilley, Karnes, and Artesia, New Mexico. 

View letter here: wrc.ms/ngos-oppose-family-detention-Sep2014

Washington D.C., Today, more than 160 immigrants' rights, faith-based, civil rights, human rights, anti-violence, and criminal justice reform organizations and legal service providers called on President Obama to reverse course on family detention. They are urging the President to immediately close family detention facilities in Artesia, New Mexico, and Karnes County, Texas, and to cancel plans announced on Tuesday to contract with a private prison company to build a massive 2,400-bed family detention facility in remote Dilley, TX. If the Dilley construction moves forward, the administration will have increased family detention capacity from just 90 beds to almost 4,000 in just a few short months.

“We are deeply dismayed at the administration's plans to dramatically expand the warehousing of families,” said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “These vulnerable mothers and children have fled desperate conditions in their home countries. To respond by locking them up is unconscionable.”

The detained population includes young children forcibly displaced by the same chronic and acute violence described by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in a 2014 report, as well as their mothers, many of whom were victims of violence by intimate partners or criminal armed actors in their home countries. Many of these families experienced further violence, including kidnapping and rape, during their journey to find safety in the United States.

“The detention of families is a stain on our most fundamental American values. Rather than invest American taxpayer dollars in new facilities to arbitrarily detain families, the Administration should consider alternatives to detention that better serve the mental and physical well-being of mothers and children who have fled violence seeking protection,” said Michelle Brané, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women's Refugee Commission. “These children should not be surrounded by prison walls; they should be provided alternatives to detention that are not only less costly, but more importantly ensure that these children don't experience further trauma.”

According to news reports, Dilley will cost taxpayers an estimated $298 per bed per day or approximately $261 million annually. DHS already spends about $2 billion in taxpayer resources annually on immigration detention – the sole purpose of which is to make sure people show up at court hearings. Alternatives to detention are effective and far less costly than institutional detention.

The groups argued that family detention inhibits access to due process and damages the mental and physical health of women and children. The groups also expressed concern about DHS's reported “no-bond” policy for families. As cited in the letter to the President, there is no evidence that detention deters unauthorized migration. Requiring the mandatory detention of women and children who have established a credible fear of persecution in order to deter other families from seeking asylum in the United States is an egregious misuse of the government's detention authority, and violates the essence of due process.

“The Obama Administration is tripping over itself in its rush to put migrant families in detention,” said Antonio Ginatta, US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Detaining infants and toddlers can do real harm to their health and development, is never in their best interest, and violates their human rights. Instead of pouring its resources into locking up families who may be fleeing violence, the Administration should focus on establishing a fair system to hear their claims.”

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