A call to end family detention before Christmas

December 23, 2016 GMT

A call to end family detention before Christmas


Human rights advocates are calling for an immediate end to family detention to prevent thousands of mothers and children from spending Christmas incarcerated.

Immigrant rights advocates, along with 17 mothers who have been held for more than one year in the Berks County Family Detention Center in Pennsylvania, are asking for the release of the more than 41,000 current Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) detainees.

“We are desperate because this will be the second Christmas that our children have to spend here,” the mothers wrote to President Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

“This is in addition to all the other special dates, such as the birthdays of our children and our own, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc, that we have had to spend in this jail, including the 4th of July on which this country celebrates FREEDOM….We ask you, 17 desperate mothers, to give the biggest gift to our children of being able to spend Christmas among family,” they added.

Earlier this month ICE released more than 460 mothers and children from the two family detention centers in Dilley and Karnes, Texas after Austin Judge Karin Crump ruled against granting the two privately owned prisons a state license that allows them to function as child care facilities. The judge’s decision has already been appealed, but immigration advocates are saying this release is proof that there is nothing preventing the Obama administration from releasing the remaining families.

“If ICE can suddenly release hundreds of women and children without warning to local shelters, then surely the Obama administration can release everyone from family detention in Pennsylvania and Texas before Christmas,” said Cristina Parker, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership.

“Family detention is a national disgrace, and a blemish on Obama’s already-terrible record on deportations. Instead of handing the keys to these prisons to Donald Trump, Obama can instead end this now,” she added.

ICE has denied the recent release of more than 460 families had anything to do with the judge’s ruling, saying they were scheduled as a part of normal operations. On Dec. 3 ICE released 61 family members from the Karnes facility, and 409 family members from the Dilley facility, according to a Dec. 6 statement from the agency.

“ICE is currently reviewing the court’s ruling on the matter of the operating license for the South Texas Family Residential Center. Operational activities continue without interruption at this time,” reads part of the statement.

Most of the families released ended up in downtown San Antonio where the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) operates a shelter for these families.

RAICES provides food, clothing, housing and legal help to dozens of migrants every day at their centers in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Corpus Christi and Fort Worth or before a judge in the courtroom, according to Refugee Advocate Coordinator Karina Castro.

“The highest number that we had at our shelter this year was about 100 and all of a sudden we had about 500 families released to us within three days,” Castro said. “Many of the families were released without a credible fear interview and the numbers don’t lie, that’s not normal.”

According to a recent report from the DHS Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers, the average time of detention at any of the three centers was about 17 days.

After visiting each of the centers the committee, which was established by DHS Secretary Johnson in June 2015, recommended that DHS discontinue the general use of family detention after more than one year of research.

“DHS’s immigration enforcement practices should operationalize the presumption that detention is generally neither appropriate nor necessary for families,” the report states, “And that detention or the separation of families for purposes of immigration enforcement or management, are never in the best interest of children.”

In July 2015, Federal District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered the release of immigrant children detained by ICE, but in an attempt to convince the courts that detention centers are appropriate places for children the Obama Administration asked the Texas Department of Family Protective Services to license the detention centers as state childcare facilities.

Judge Crump’s ruling on Dec. 2, 2016 states that the DFPS does not have the authority to issue state childcare licenses to federal immigration detention centers.

“Perhaps ICE thinks that detention centers can be childcare facilities because the mothers are there to care for their children; but the mother’s ability to care for their children is severely restricted by the nature of detention,” wrote Sara Ramey, an immigration attorney for RAICES, in an opinion article first published by The Hill on Dec. 7, 2016.

Ramey suggests placing families in case management or supervised release programs since they first arrive or hold accompanied children in centers modeled after the one the RAICES has been running in San Antonio since 1987.

“As president-elect Trump’s team reviews immigration policy, it should take a close look at how to best uphold American values,” Ramey wrote in The Hill article. “President-elect Trump has an opportunity to show the country and the world that he will uphold the law and put children first.”