Joint Letter Opposing New Family Detention Centers
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July 7, 2014 The Honorable Jeh Johnson Secretary Department of Homeland Security The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas Deputy Secretary Department of Homeland Security Re: Open Letter in Response to Announcement of New Immigrant Family Detention Beds Dear Secretary Johnson and Deputy Secretary Mayorkas: We, the undersigned civil rights and civil liberties, human rights, faith, immigration, labor, criminal justice, legal, and children’s rights organizations, write to strongly urge you to end plans to open new immigrant family detention centers. We are gravely concerned by the Obama Administration’s announcement that it will expand the use of family detention. Family detention profoundly impacts the emotional and physical wellbeing of children and breaks down family relationships. While the administration is understandably under pressure to respond to the current humanitarian crisis at the border, locking babies in prison cells and deporting women and young children to dangerous situations are not the solution. In 2009, the Administration took positive steps in rolling back family detention by ending the use of family detention at T. Don Hutto, a Texas facility operated by the for-profit private prison company Corrections Corporation of America. At that time, the Administration also withdrew plans for three new family detention centers. The Hutto detention center, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained families from 2006 to 2009, became a national embarrassment. Although DHS claimed the facility was specially equipped to meet the needs of families, reports emerged that children as young as eight months old wore prison uniforms, lived in locked prison cells with open-air toilets, subjected to highly restricted movement, and threatened with alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats of separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. Medical treatment was inadequate and children as young as one lost weight. The Hutto detention center was the subject of a lawsuit, a human rights investigation, multiple national and international media reports, and a national campaign to end family detention. Because children require specialized educational, medical, and legal support, family detention in closed facilities is inhumane, inappropriate, and imposes a significant financial cost on the federal government. We call on the Administration to utilize alternatives to detention for families. Community support programs, case management and other programs already in use by ICE are effective in ensuring appearance and compliance with immigration orders and should be utilized as widely as possible. The development of an extensive alternatives program for families could also be adopted from existing resettlement models. Alternatives such as these are more consistent with American principles, and much more cost effective than traditional detention or warehousing. These alternatives should include the use of case managers or social workers to manage families’ cases rather than placing them in detention. For families without housing, the administration should partner with non-profit shelter or child welfare organizations experienced in supporting asylum-seeking and immigrant families to resolve any issues preventing the direct release of families. Social workers with proven track records providing family and child welfare services offer the only appropriate expertise for supporting families in civil immigration proceedings. For questions or to follow-up on this letter, please contact Bob Libal at Grassroots Leadership at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 971-0487 or Michelle Brané at the Women’s Refugee Committee at MichelleB@wrcommission.org or (646) 717-7191. Bob Libal Grassroots Leadership Michelle Brané Women’s Refugee Commission On behalf of: Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice Alliance San Diego American Civil Liberties Union American Friends Service Committee American Gateways American Immigration Lawyers Association Americans for Immigrant Justice Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Assisting Latinos Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition Border Network for Human Rights California CURE Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families CASA de Maryland Center for Constitutional Rights Center for Popular Democracy Coalicion de Derechos Humanos Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles Coloradans For Immigrant Rights, a project of the AFSC Comite de Derechos Humanos de Forks Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto Community to Community Development - C2C Detention Watch Network DREAM Activist Virginia DreamActivist.org East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition Ella Baker Center for Human Rights Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project Families for Freedom First Focus First Friends Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project Florida Immigrant Coalition Franciscan Action Network Freedom House Freedom University Friends Committee on National Legislation Friends of Broward Detainees Georgia Dreamers Alliance Grassroots Leadership Greater Birmingham Ministries HIAS Human Rights Defense Center Human Rights First Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights Immigrant Defense Project Immigrant Legal Resource Center Immigration Taskforce of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod - ELCA In The Public Interest International Detention Coalition Justice Policy Institute Justice Strategies La Raza Centro Legal La Union del Pueblo Entero Leadership Conference of Women Religious Legal Services for Prisoners with Children Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Mission Waco N.C. Immigrant Rights Project National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association National Council of Jewish Women National Day Laborer Organizing Network National Gay and Lesbian Task Force National Guestworker Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center National Immigration Forum National Immigration Law Center National Immigration Project National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice Nuestra Casa OneAmerica Pax Christ USA Pax Christi Seed Planters Pax Christi Southwest Florida Pax Christi-Phoenix People Acting in Community Together Peoples' Action for Rights and Community PICO National Network Presente Prison Activist Resource Center Private Corrections Working Group Proyecto Juan Diego Pueblo Sin Fronteras Queer Detainee Empowerment Project Resist the Raids Responsible Endowments Coalition San Diego Mission Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network Seton Hall University School of Law Center for Social Justice Shirlington Employment and Education Center Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Southeast Asia Resource Action Center Southern Poverty Law Center St. Matthew Immigration Detention Ministry Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition Texans United for Families Texas Civil Rights Project Texas MoveOn, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas & Fort Worth The Advocates for Human Rights Transgender Law Center United Families United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society United Methodist Women United We Dream Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations Women’s Refugee Commission