Washington, D.C. - Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers issued a report in which it unanimously concluded that "detention is generally neither appropriate nor necessary for families." Without a doubt, the harsh treatment of asylum seeking families, as described in the report, is consistent with what the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the American Immigration Council (Council) and Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) have witnessed and experienced through our efforts to provide representation to families detained by DHS in Dilley, Texas. We urge DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to heed his agency's own advisors and swiftly adopt these recommendations.
We commend the Committee for its diligent efforts to carefully investigate the inhumane practice of detaining mothers and children and for making recommendations that would help ensure all families seeking protection in the United States have access to justice and due process.
In its report, the Committee expresses frustration with DHS's lack of transparency with respect to essential data and information about family detention operations, including length of detention, the credentials of staff providing medical and mental health care, and processes to communicate with rare language speakers. We hope that DHS will use this opportunity to substantially improve its data collection and transparency.
The report additionally makes the following recommendations:
- End the widespread application of expedited removal and reinstatement of removal; instead DHS should release asylum seeking families with a Notice to Appear unless there is a determination that there is a security risk or risk of flight that cannot be mitigated by other means;
- Release speakers of rare languages, as DHS does not have capacity to ensure they have access to translation necessary to meaningfully apply for protection;
- Provide lawyers to families who do not have them and ensure access to counsel at all stages of the process;
- Do not separate children from parents in order to keep the parents in detention; and
- Provide improved medical and mental health care and education.
The Committee's report should serve as a wake-up call for DHS. When a handpicked panel of experts lists page after page of examples of where the government has been derelict in its duties to vulnerable mothers and children seeking refuge, something needs to change. Family detention is incompatible with our country's laws and values, and it must end.