Government Shows No Signs of Backing Down on Family Detention
Washington D.C. - Yesterday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced efforts to “enhance oversight” to help ensure that families are detained in “safe and humane facilities” and in doing so demonstrated no signs of reevaluating its misguided family detention policy. The American Immigration Council welcomes efforts to increase access to legal counsel, improve detention conditions, and provide for more supervisory review of custody determinations, but yesterday’s announcement misses the mark. It is simply unlawful, inhumane, and unnecessary to detain children and mothers on a large scale, and the government must begin taking steps to roll back its strategy of detaining those fleeing violence and persecution.
This week, the American Immigration Council, along with other groups, toured the newly built family detention center in Dilley, Texas. As of Tuesday, 776 children and women were detained there, increased from an initial capacity of 480. Construction on the 50-acre property is scheduled to be completed by the end of the month, and ICE will have the capacity to detain 2400 individuals there. The scale is unprecedented, and as the population has grown, the need for legal services for the families has rapidly overwhelmed pro bono resources.
The CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project is working onsite to meet with as many women as possible to help them navigate the complex immigration process. But as the population grows exponentially week after week—and given the sheer volume and speed at which legal proceedings are taking place—many women have no opportunity to even talk to a lawyer (let alone work with a lawyer to prepare) before their legal proceeding are underway or even completed.
The administration seems unable or unwilling to acknowledge that these women and children are fleeing undeniable violence in their home countries and that we should be treating them as refugees. We must honor our obligations under international law and must ensure that asylum seekers are afforded basic due process rights, including the right to counsel. Installing additional “oversight mechanisms” will not remedy the injustices taking place in our rapidly expanding family detention system. The only viable option is for the government to end the shameful practice of detaining these families and redirect the time and resources of the agency toward release or, when necessary, the investment in viable, less expensive alternatives to detention that are safer, effective and more humane.