Friday, August 14, 2015
Guest writer Irene Scharf writes on the Obama Administration's response to release of women and children from the immigrant detention centers:
The recent decision by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee condemning the government’s mass incarceration of refugee families, specifically mothers and children seeking asylum in the U.S., reminds us that the Obama Administration continues to maintain ill-advised positions with regard to the treatment of immigrants in this country.
The Administration’s disappointing response to Judge Gee’s decision is to continue supporting the incarceration of refugee women and children who have fled violence and persecution in their home countries. The decision has been denounced by several organizations with expertise in this area, including the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and the national American Immigration Law Association.
The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS), which has called for an end to mass family incarceration, notes that the “ruling correctly found that incarcerating children with their mothers violates the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) obligations under the 1997 Flores v. Reno settlement agreement, which governs the custody and treatment of children by DHS. That agreement … requires release of children along with their mothers unless the families pose a flight risk or danger.” The decision enumerated some of the harms caused by confinement of children, including “‘long-lasting psychological, developmental, and physical harm” as well as impeded “access to legal representation, critical for asylum seekers navigating our complex system of immigration laws.”
The government’s insensitivity to the rights of immigrants, particularly children, is not new. In 1988, in an article I co-authored, What Process is Due? Unaccompanied Minors' Rights to Deportation Hearings, we examined the rights abuses to which unaccompanied immigrant children were subject by the legacy Immigration and Nationality Service. During that time, prior to the institution of protections, children entering without their parents were wrongfully pressured to waive their rights to deportation hearings, even when they had asylum claims. The administration's ongoing support for detention is reactionary by perpetuating the abuses the Flores settlement was intended to end.
A New York Times article on the subject notes that
“Judge Gee … found that migrant children had been held in ‘widespread deplorable conditions’ in Border Patrol stations after they were first caught, and she said the authorities had ‘wholly failed’ to provide the ‘safe and sanitary’ conditions required for children even in temporary cells.” (Julie Preston, July 26, 2015). The CGRS reminds us that “[t]he operation of inhumane family detention facilities violates the rights of refugee families and contravenes our cherished national commitments to liberty, due process, and justice.”
As of June 30, about 2,600 women and children were held in the three incarceration centers, according to government officials.