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May 06, 2015

Don’t Forget about Refugee Moms this Mother’s Day

As Mother’s Day approaches, most of us are scrambling to buy cards, gifts, or flowers to show our moms our appreciation. But a large number of mothers in America can expect no such kind gestures because they’ll be locked in an immigration detention center after fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries.

Many Central American mothers and children come to the United States as refugees seeking asylum. But during last summer’s surge in border crossings, the Obama administration announced that it would start locking up mothers and their children to essentially “send a message” to other Central American asylum seekers. 

Instead of making assessments based on their individual circumstances and support needs, the administration decided to resurrect a 2003 ruling by former Attorney General John Ashcroft that justifies holding an asylum seeker in detention to “deter” others from seeking U.S. protection. The result: hundreds of families have been held in detention for months on end without bond, or with bonds higher than they could ever afford. Children have become depressed or lost weight, and there have been reports of sexual assault. To shine a light on these unjust detention policies, mothers in the Karnes, Texas detention facility launched hunger strike protests during the week leading up to Easter.

In February a U.S. federal court ruled that the administration’s strategy probably violates the law and issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from detaining families seeking asylum “for the purpose of deterring future immigration to the United States and from considering deterrence of such immigration as a factor in custody determinations.” But the administration continues to defend its approach in court, and many mothers and their children remain locked up.

In March the administration asked Congress to appropriate $345.3 million to fund a sharp increase in detention facilities for mothers and children. It plans to increase capacity to 3,800 beds—a 3,700 percent jump. While holding a family in detention can cost over $300 per person per day, community based and other alternatives—proven effective in supporting court appearances—typically cost less than $17 per day. Locking up mothers and children in immigration detention is not only inhumane, but it is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Congressional, faith, and legal leaders have written to the president asking him to abandon this flawed policy. Americans across the political spectrum also support the use of alternatives rather than detention for asylum seekers, according to a recent survey conducted by polling firm Public Opinion Strategies for Human Rights First. President Obama should listen to them. 

This Mother’s Day, add your voice to this cause and sign our petition telling President Obama that holding mothers and children in immigration detention is an affront to American ideals of liberty and due process, as well as international human rights law. To learn more about the plight of Central American moms, check out our fact sheet.​