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Outcry over plans to lock up refugee families

More than 100 organizations ask Homeland Security officials to reconsider plans to put families and children into prison-like detention centers in this letter delivered today to Department of Homeland Security officials asking them to look for alternatives to detention for families and children seeking refuge at the border.

Citing the lawsuit, human rights abuses and national outcry that surrounded the end of family detention at the T. Don Hutto facility, the last family detention center in Texas, they argue that there are alternatives to lock-up for refugee families. 

The last time family detention was used at the facility, reports emerged that children as young as eight months old wore prison uniforms, lived in locked prison cells with open- toilets, subjected to highly restricted movement, and threatened with alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats of separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. Medical treatment was inadequate and children as young as one lost weight.

The letter reads in part: “While the administration is understandably under pressure to respond to the current humanitarian crisis at the border, locking babies in prison cells and deporting women and young children to dangerous situations are not the solution.”

“The end of family detention at the Hutto facility, where the human rights of children were violated, was a step in the right direction,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership. “Putting refugee families with children into lock-up conditions is a step backwards.”

In part, the letter addressed to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas calls on the Administration to utilize alternatives to detention for families that they say are are more consistent with American principles.

These alternatives are not only humane, but more effective, they argue. “Alternatives to detention have been shown to be 96% effective in ensuring appearance in immigration proceedings. They are also significantly less expensive than detention, and far more appropriate for families with children,” said Michelle Brané of the Women's Refugee Committee. “Families should be accorded special consideration befitting their unique vulnerabilities and circumstances”

In addition to Grassroots Leadership and the Women's Refugee Commission, signatories to the letter include American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Detention Watch Network, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, National Immigration Law Center, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Southern Poverty Law Center, United Methodist Women, and United We Dream. The entire letter and list of 111 signatories can be seen here.