The letter below, signed by 188 organizations, went to President Obama on May 12, 2015, calling for an end to family detention. 

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. 
 
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 (katharinao@wrcommission.org; 202/750-8597) or Joanne Lin of the American Civil Liberties Union (jlin@aclu.org; 202/675-2317). 
 
Sincerely, 
 
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 
Gamaliel 
Grassroots Leadership 
HIAS 
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 
Agora 
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. 
CASA 
Causa Oregon 
Central American Resource Center (CARECEN-LA) 
Central West Justice Center 
Cherokee Family Violence Center 
CHIRLA 
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 
Juntos 
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 
OneAmerica 
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 
RAICES 
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 
 
CC: Jeh Johnson, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security 
Alejandro Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security 
Sarah Saldaña, Assistant Secretary of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 
Cecilia Muñoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council 
Caroline Bettinger-López, White House Advisor on Violence Against Women 
Leon Fresco, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Immigration Litigation, Civil 
Division, Department of Justice 
Stevan Bunnell, General Counsel, Department of Homeland Security 
Megan Mack, Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Department of Homeland Security 
Volker Turk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, United Nations High 
Commissioner for Refugees 
François Crépeau, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants