DHS Statement On Family Detention Falls Short of Expectations

Immigrant Detention

DHS Issues Statement That Prolonged Family Detention Will End- But Falls Far Short of Advocates’ Expectations.

Reaction to the department of homeland security's statement on family detention.Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced last week that the federal government will be implementing a plan to end the long-term detention of immigrant families, hundreds of which are being held in Dilley and Karnes City, Texas, and at an additional facility in Berks County, Pennsylvania, as they await adjudication of their requests for asylum or to negotiate other options for immigration relief.

Though it falls far short of many immigration advocates’ objectives, hopefully the statement indicates that the federal government is finally beginning to realize the profound human cost that these detention policies have taken on those detained.  Treating entire families like criminals when, due to the rampant violence they are fleeing in their home countries they should be dealt with as refugees, will be a scar the human rights record of the Obama administration.

While it was likely meant to appease the mounting voices against family detention, the Secretary’s statement is deeply frustrating because it lacks clarity, a sense of urgency, and did not go so far to say that the government plans to actually bring the policy of family detention to a close.

In the statement, Secretary Johnson says that the U.S. “must make substantial changes in our detention practices with respect to families with children…In short, once a family has established eligibility for asylum or other relief under our laws, long-term detention is an inefficient use of our resources and should be discontinued.” (See the full announcement here: http://www.dhs.gov/news/2015/06/24/statement-secretary-jeh-c-johnson-family-residential-centers). While this indicates that “long-term” detention would “in most cases” be phased out, there was no clarification about what constituted long term or short term detention.

The announcement also did nothing to address the egregiously high bonds that have been being set for the release of many immigrant families, which can be upward of $10,000 – basically making release impossible, even when it has been “legally” authorized.

The psychological, emotional, and often physical harm that prolonged detention can inflict on children was also not addressed by Secretary Johnson, who implied by his statement that the policy needs tweaking – not dismantling.  It provides no guidance into how the new policy will be implemented or when the supposed changes will take place.  The lack of recognition of the human rights costs and the deeper moral implications of imprisoning children on U.S. soil has still not been meaningfully acknowledged by this administration.  I believe this is just another page in a shameful chapter of U.S. history, and I hope that our next President will recognize this and put family detention to an end.

One helpful hint to those on the outside trying to locate individuals in detention is to ask the detainee for their alien, or “A” number as soon as you speak to them.  This is a 9-digit identification number that can be used to identify where the alien is and to communicate with ICE agents about their case more efficiently.  If you’re unsure where a detainee is located, you can also try the ICE Online Detainee Locator.

If you know someone who has been detained in Dilley, Kearns, Berks County or any other immigration holding facility, feel free to contact us for a consultation.