The world watches as the United States detains mothers and children at alarming rates. This week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an international body that monitors human rights in the Americas, will be holding a series of hearings on its recent investigations into the U.S. government’s response to the increase in children and families seeking refuge in the United States from Central America. The hearings this week, following an IACHR trip to the Karnes County family detention facility, will focus on the apprehension, detention, and deportation of thousands of Central American families and children since June.
The Commission’s primary concerns include the lack of access to legal representation for children and families seeking asylum, the government’s unprecedented rapid expansion of family detention facilities, and the failure to rely on effective alternatives to detention.
Vulnerable people need access to legal counsel. It is well-documented that many of these women and children languishing in family detention qualify for international protection which would allow them to lawfully remain in the United States. Unfortunately, the location of these facilities makes it difficult for immigration counsel to provide legal representation. Research has shown that 78% of children with representation will likely be granted the international protection they deserve while only 10% of child asylum-seekers without counsel are granted protection. Just last week, an immigration judge granted asylum to yet another mother and her children currently being held in the Artesia family detention facility. This marks the seventh out of seven successful asylum cases out of Artesia represented by volunteer attorneys from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).
Women and children seeking refuge should not be detained. Since June, the U.S. government has increased capacity for family detention from a little over 85 beds to 2,400 beds. The government plans to reach a capacity of 4,000 beds to house these women and children by the spring of 2015. LIRS has consistently opposed the practice of family detention, as it is extremely expensive, prevents full and fair access to legal representation and information, and is severely damaging to mental health. Further, it risks re-traumatizing survivors of torture, trafficking and violence.
Recently, Rebecca van Uitert, a volunteer attorney representing a mother and her seven-year-old daughter currently being held in the Artesia facility, shared her first-hand experience with the harmful impact of detention on a child:
She was traumatized by the violence back home, and is now being re-traumatized on a daily basis by the punitive setting in which she’s being held, resulting in severe emotional distress and inability to eat/keep down any food. She’s lost so much weight that a doctor at the facility told the mother that if she didn’t force her daughter to eat and gain some weight, they would be placing a PICC line (i.e., a peripherally inserted central catheter) in the girl for emergency nutrition. In desperation, the mother asked for bottles with milk to be provided instead. Mom now holds her seven-year-old daughter in her arms like a baby at meal times to feed her by bottle.
As people of faith, we believe that vulnerable newcomers deserve better and will continue our call to end this inhumane and unacceptable practice. Join us in raising your voice by:
- Reading and sharing “Locking Up Family Values, Again” the update to our 2007 report, “Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families” which will be released later this week. “Locking Up Family Values, Again” will be accessible at lirs.org/familyvalues.
- Visiting LIRS’s Action Center to tell urge your elected representatives to end family detention.
- Donating to help ensure other mothers and children have access to life-saving volunteer legal representation.
Thank you for standing for welcome.