The Honorable Chairman Ron Johnson

U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security

and Governmental Affairs

Washington, DC 20510

 

The Honorable Ranking Member Claire McCaskill

U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security

and Governmental Affairs

Washington, DC 20510

 

CC: Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

September 14, 2018

Dear Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member McCaskill, and Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs:

We, the undersigned organizations who work on behalf of, serve, or provide care for asylum seekers, refugees, immigrants, and children write to urge you and your colleagues to oppose any legislation that would expand the scale and length of immigrant family detention or overturn the child protection principles currently governing the treatment of migrant children in custody.

In its June 20, 2018 Executive Order[1], the Trump administration made clear that it seeks to turn to family detention as the answer to its policies of separating families apprehended - often while legally seeking asylum - at the border. The administration has sought to modify the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement in order to be able to detain more children with their parents, to do so for longer periods of time, and in conditions that have clearly been demonstrated to be unsafe and inadequate. Stopped by the court,[2] it has proposed federal regulations[3] that would gut the protections that form the heart of those prescribed by Flores. Our organizations are deeply concerned at these plans, as well as any legislative efforts that would similarly permit such expanded and prolonged detention in inappropriate conditions, including by undermining key elements of the Flores Agreement.

The Flores Settlement Agreement resulted from over a decade of litigation over the government’s policies of detaining children. Prior to Flores, children could be detained with unrelated adults in prison-like facilities, had little to no access to education or recreation, be subject to strip searches, and more.[4] The Agreement, which applies to all children - unaccompanied and accompanied - in U.S. immigration custody, is grounded in fundamental child protection principles, and aims to ensure that children are not subject to prolonged detention, that when necessary they are held in appropriate facilities that are not secure and are licensed by a child welfare entity, that they receive appropriate care, and that their due process rights are respected. Any measure that would undermine or overturn Flores creates the very real risk that children will be harmed and traumatized as a result.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) currently operates three family detention facilities: two in Texas, and a smaller facility in Pennsylvania. In addition, DHS also operated a family detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico in 2014, and used the T. Don Hutto facility in Texas for family detention from 2006 to 2009. Numerous reports and complaints document the extensive concerns over treatment, care, and length of custody in DHS’s family detention facilities, none of which are licensed by a child welfare entity and all of which are secure.[5] So inappropriate are the conditions in family detention facilities and DHS’s practices concerning family detention that Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) own Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers (ACFRC) - a committee of subject matter experts that was formed to independently examine and issue guidance to ICE on how to improve family detention practices - issued as its first recommendation that ICE should discontinue the practice.[6] The American Academy of Pediatrics has similarly found that children in the custody of their parents “should never be detained.”[7] More recently, two physicians who work with DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and have extensively visited family detention centers also spoke out based on their concerns over the potential expansion of family detention. The physicians found egregious examples of inadequate care that included severe weight loss in children detained in family detention centers as well as “an infant with bleeding of the brain that went undiagnosed for five days.”[8]

Family detention, like all immigration detention, also severely inhibits the ability to obtain legal relief. Existing detention centers are often in remote locations with extremely limited access to legal information and legal counsel. Only 14 percent of those in immigration detention have a lawyer, and the chances of success increase ten-fold with representation.[9] Family detention traumatizes and re-traumatizes children and their parents, who are already often fleeing a dangerous and traumatic situation and yet forced to navigate the U.S. asylum process - and to explain their story to a judge and opposing counsel - without any legal assistance. These challenges are exacerbated further in cases where a family member speaks an indigenous language or may not be able to read or write.

There is more than enough evidence to illustrate clearly that DHS family detention practices result in an unacceptable treatment of children and cannot comport with the strict guidelines that Flores requires. The harms of family detention cannot be overstated, even when a child and her parent are detained only for a short period of time. Since Flores requirements are based on child protection principles to ensure that children are treated fairly and humanely, weakening them would only risk further harming children and their families. As the physicians who recently spoke out noted, “‘In our professional opinion, there is no amount of programming that can ameliorate the harms created by the very act of confining children to detention centers.’”[10] Instead, DHS can and should turn to a spectrum of far more appropriate alternatives to family separation.

Detaining families is not the answer to the cruel family separation policies that resulted in thousands of children being torn from their parents. It is long past time for Congress to invest in sensible, proven, and far more humane alternatives. The government could safely release many families to sponsors in the community while the family pursues their immigration case in court. One program in particular, the Family Case Management Program (FCMP), was specifically implemented for families seeking asylum at our borders. The FCMP favored case management instead of detention for families, facilitating access to social and legal services while also supporting compliance with immigration requirements. Over 99 percent of the families enrolled in the FCMP appeared at their check-ins with ICE and their immigration court hearings.[11] At a cost of only $38 each day for a whole family, compared to the $320 each day for just one family member in detention, the program can also create huge cost savings when used as an actual alternative to family detention.[12]

Family detention is harmful, costly, and completely unnecessary. We urge you to reject any measure that would result in its expansion, allow families to be detained for longer periods of time, or weakens the safeguards that currently exist to protect children in government custody.

Sincerely,

National Organizations

ACLU

African American Ministers In Action

Al Otro Lado, Inc.

Alianza Americas

American Academy of Pediatrics

American College of Physicians

American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)

American Immigration Lawyers Association

American Pediatric Society

American Psychiatric Association

American Psychological Association

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Amnesty International USA

Anti-Defamation League

ASAP (Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project)

Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Asian Americans Advancing Justice

Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence

ASISTA

Association for Child Psychoanalysis

Association of Medical School Pediatric Department Chairs

Bend the Arc Jewish Action

Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network for Healthy

Center for American Progress

Center for Gender & Refugee Studies

Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

Center for Victims of Torture

Center on Immigration and Child Welfare

Church World Service

Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES)

Detention Watch Network

Earthjustice

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Fair Immigration Reform Movement

Faith in Public Life

Families and Communities

Farmworker Justice

First Focus

Franciscan Action Network

Freedom Network USA

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Futures Without Violence

HEAL Trafficking

HIAS

Hofstra Law School Asylum Clinic

Hope Border Institute

Human Rights Campaign

Human Rights First

Human Rights Watch

Immigrant Justice Corps

Immigration Equality

Indivisible

International Rescue Committee

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Justice in Motion

Kids in Need of Defense

Latin America Working Group

Leadership Conference  of Women Religious

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Main Street Alliance

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

MomsRising

National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF)

National Association of Social Workers

National Center for Victims of Crime

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Council of Jewish Women

National Domestic Violence Hotline

National Immigrant Justice Center

National Immigration Forum

National Immigration Law Center

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

National Network to End Domestic Violence

National Organization for Women

National WIC Association

National Women's Law Center

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

Office of Social Justice

Oxfam America

Partnership For America's Children

Pax Christi USA

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Salvadoran American National Network (SANN)

Save the Children USA

Scalabrini International Migration Network

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia

Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities

Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine

Society for Pediatric Research

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

Southern Poverty Law Center

Tahirih Justice Center

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Ujima Inc: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community

UnidosUS

Union for Reform Judaism

Women's Refugee Commission

Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights

ZERO TO THREE

State/Local Organizations

A Safe Place

Advocates for Children of NJ

ALDEA - The People's Justice Center

Americans for Immigrant Justice

Apostle Immigrant Services

Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

Artemis Justice Center

Ayuda

Between Friends

CAIR New York

California Partnership to End Domestic Violence

CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates

Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition

Capital Area New Mainers Project

Center for Family Life in Sunset Park

Center for Family Representation

Center for Health Progress

Center for Safety and Change

Center for the Human Rights of Children, Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa

Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) DC

Centro Legal de la Raza

Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation

Children First for Oregon

Children's Advocacy Alliance

Children's Defense Fund - New York

Children's Defense Fund - Texas

Citizens' Committee for Children of New York

Clayton Early Learning

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)

Colorado Children's Campaign

Colorado Fiscal Institute

Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights

Connecticut Association For Human Services, Inc.

Connecticut Voices for Children

DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Dolores Street Community Services

Domestic Violence project at the Urban Justice Center

Dove, Inc.

End Domestic Abuse WI

First Parish Portland

First3Years

Florida Council Against Sexual Violence

Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Grassroots Leadership

Gulfcoast Legal Services

Her Justice

Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama

Holy Name of Jesus - St. Gregory the Great Parish

Hope Acts

Human Rights Initiative of North Texas

Idaho Voices for Children

Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Immigrant Allies of Marshalltown (Iowa)

Immigration Center for Women and Children

Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Iowa Conference United Methodist Women

Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

Justice Center of Southeast MA

Justice For Our Neighbors - Austin Region

Justice For Our Neighbors - DC-MD

Justice For Our Neighbors - East Texas

Justice For Our Neighbors - Houston

Justice For Our Neighbors - Iowa

Justice For Our Neighbors - Michigan

Kansas Action for Children

Kansas Appleseed

Kansas Center for Economic Growth

Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence

Kentucky Youth Advocates

Kids Forward

Kino Border Initiative

Latinas Unidas Por Un Nuevo Amanecer (L.U.N.A.)

Lawyers For Children

Legal Aid Justice Center

Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, Inc.

LIFT Local Immigrant Family Treasury

Maine Children's Alliance

Maine Immigrants' Rights Coalition

Maine People's Alliance

Maine WTR Resource Center

Mainers for Accountable Leadership

Mid-South Immigration Advocates

Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

Mutual Ground, Inc.

NC Child

Nebraska Appleseed

Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence

Neighbors Link Community Law Practice

New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence

New Mexico Voices for Children

New Sanctuary Coalition

New York Immigration Coalition

New York Legal Assistance Group

New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence

NLG at UC Irvine Law

Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights

Ohio Immigrant Alliance

Pax Christi Metro DC-Baltimore

Rhode Island KIDS COUNT

RSHM LIFE Center

Sanctuary for Families

Santa Fe Dreamers Project

Schuyler Center for Analysis & Advocacy

Sosa Law

South Bronx United

Stopping Woman Abuse Now

Texans Care for Children

The Bronx Defenders

The Children's Agenda

The Children's Campaign

The Children's Partnership

The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project

The Legal Aid Society

The Legal Project, Inc.

The Resurrection Project

Tulsa Immigrant Resource Network

Turning Point, Inc.

USC Gould International Human Rights Clinic

Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

Voices for Children in Nebraska

Voices for Florida

Volunteers of Legal Service

Wallingford Indivisible

Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network

Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Washington State League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

 

[1] Executive Order: Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation, The White House, June 20, 2018, https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/affording-congress-opportunity-address-family-separation/.

[2] Josh Gerstein, “Judge rejects Trump request to alter agreement on release of immigrant kids,” Politico, July 9, 2018, https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/09/judge-rejects-trump-request-flores-immigrant-children-704019.

[3] Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Children, September 7, 2018. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-09-07/pdf/2018-19052.pdf.

[4] United States District Court Central District of California, Flores v. Meese, July 11, 1985, Flores v. Reno,  National Center for Youth Law, https://youthlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/1997/05/Flores-Complaint.pdf.

[5]  Women’s Refugee Commission and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Locking Up Family Values, Again, Women’s Refugee Commission, October 2014, https://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/resources/document/1085-locking-up-family-values-again;

Plaint.pdf; Human Rights First, Long-Term Detention of Mothers and Children in Pennsylvania, Human Rights First, August 19, 2016, https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/long-term-detention-mothers-and-children-pennsylvania; Complaint: The Traumatizing Impact of Family Detention on Mental Health of Children and Mothers, June 30, 2015, https://www.aila.org/advo-media/press-releases/2015/deplorable-medical-treatment-at-fam-detention-ctrs/public-version-of-complaint-to-crcl; Complaint: ICE’s Failure to Provide Adequate Medical Care to Mothers and Children in Family Detention Facilities, July 30, 2015, https://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/rights/resources/1182-crcl-complaint-2015-06; Complaints Regarding Sexual Abuse of Women in DHS Custody at Karnes County Residential Center, September 30, 2014, MALDEF, http://www.maldef.org/news/releases/maldef_other_groups_file_complaint_ice_family_detention_center_karnes_city/; American Bar Association, Family Immigration Detention: Why the Past Cannot Be Prologue, American Bar Association Commission on Immigration, July 31, 2015, https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/commission_on_immigration/FINAL%20ABA%20Family%20Detention%20Report%208-19-15.authcheckdam.pdf; Righting the Wrong: Why Detention of Asylum-Seeking Mothers and Children in America Must End Now, Tahirih Justice Center, October 28, 2015, https://www.tahirih.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Righting-the-Wrong-Why-Detention-of-Asylum-Seeking-Mothers-and-Children-Must-End-Now-Web-Copy.pdf.

[6] Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers (ACFRC), Report on the DHS Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers, October 7, 2016, https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Report/2016/ACFRC-sc-16093.pdf

[7]Julie M. Linton, Marsha Griffin, Alan J. Shapiro, “Detention of Immigrant Children,” Council on Community Pediatrics, Pediatrics, (March 2017), http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2017/03/09/peds.2017-0483.

[8] Miriam Jordan, “Whistle-Blowers Say Detaining Migrant Families ‘Poses High Risk of Harm,’” New York Times, July 18, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/18/us/migrant-children-family-detention-doctors.html.

[9] Ingrid Eagly and Steven Shafer, Access to Counsel in Immigration Court, American Immigration Council Special Report, September 2016, https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/sites/default/files/research/access_to_counsel_in_immigration_court.pdf.

[10] Jordan, “Whistle-Blowers”, New York Times.

[11] Office of Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Award of the Family Case Management Program Contract (Redacted), November 30, 2017, 5, https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017-12/OIG-18-22-Nov17.pdf.

[12] Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Budget Overview: Fiscal Year 2019 Congressional Justification”, Department of Homeland Security, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/U.S.%20Immigration%20and%20Customs%20Enforcement.pdf; Women’s Refugee Commission, Family Case Management Program: A Backgrounder, published July 20, 2018, https://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/rights/resources/1653-family-case-management-program.