Last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) announced “a series of actions to enhance oversight and accountability, increase access and transparency” to improve its family detention centers. Based on over 75 years of experience working with individuals whose lives have been uprooted by violence and trauma, we remain firmly opposed to the Administration’s policy of detaining children and their mothers, especially families who are fleeing harm and persecution.
The Administration’s announced reforms appear largely symbolic and perpetuate a misguided message that it is possible to humanely detain families. Efforts such as changing the physical design of detention facilities or providing additional amenities ignore the reality that detaining children and their parents is morally unacceptable. It is well-understood that any length of time in detention causes psychological damage to a child, regardless of whether the child is detained alongside a parent. Yet, many of the families currently detained have now been held in custody for several months and, in some cases, children have lived behind bars longer than not.
This policy is not only inhumane and entirely inappropriate for mothers and children, it runs counter to international and humanitarian obligations. Under both international and U.S. law, it is permissible for an individual fleeing persecution to present themselves at an international border with the intent to request asylum. Rather than acknowledging that the overwhelming majority of these families are fleeing persecution and threats to their very lives, the Obama Administration persists in referring to the act of seeking protection as “illegal,” which is fundamentally untrue.
Despite ongoing lawsuits, negative press and the likelihood that this policy will largely shape its legacy on immigration, the Obama Administration continues its unwavering defense of this harmful policy. The Administration is well-aware of previous failed attempts to detain families such as the notorious T. Don Hutto facility, which closed in 2009. The current detention of families is no different.
If the government truly believes that the well-being of families is of paramount importance, then they should begin releasing mothers and children from detention immediately. DHS officials know that effective alternatives to detention exist, including programs piloted by LIRS on behalf of ICE. Such programs should be maximized for low-risk populations with extreme vulnerabilities such as these families.
As an organization with a faith-based mission to “welcome the stranger,” we call on the Obama Administration to stand on the side of justice and end the practice of family detention. Visit the LIRS Action Center to put your faith into action and call on your elected official to end family detention.
Photo credit: Nicola Jones