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September 06, 2018

Administration Moves to Indefinitely Detain Immigrant Children

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today condemned the Trump Administration’s attempt to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement, which limits the government’s ability to indefinitely incarcerate immigrant children and requires licensing by state child protection authorities of facilities that hold them. The organization notes that today’s proposed regulations are an attempt to strip legal protections from families and children seeking refuge in the United States.  

“Once again the Trump Administration is targeting Central American families seeking refugee protection in the United States. These proposed regulations are yet another shameless attempt to paint the indefinite incarceration of families—in facilities not even licensed by state child protection authorities—as somehow necessary to keep families together. But this is a false choice that purposefully evades real solutions. Locking up families seeking refugee protection in immigration jails for months or longer is not a solution, it is just another humanitarian and political fiasco,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer.

Detention is wholly unnecessary to ensure that refugee families attend their court hearings. On the contrary, families and children with legal counsel overwhelmingly appear in immigration court, with 97 percent of represented mothers whose cases were initiated in fiscal year 2014 complying with immigration court hearing obligations. Similarly, 98 percent of children whose cases were initiated in 2014 and who were represented by legal counsel were in full compliance with their court appearance obligations as of December 2017.

Alternative to detention programs also lead to extremely high appearance rates. For example, community-based case management programs piloted by Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services have shown high compliance rates of 96 to 97 percent. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Family Case Management Program, which provided case worker support to families, led to 99 percent compliance with court appearances and ICE appointments. The Trump Administration discontinued the program despite these high success rates. 

“Mass incarceration of vulnerable families is also a massive waste of government resources. Instead of jailing families in costly detention facilities, their cases can be overseen through cost-effective and proven case management systems. But the ICE family case management system was mysteriously canceled last year,” added Acer. 

Human Rights First notes that detention of children—even for short periods of time—leads to long-lasting negative mental and physical health outcomes. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that even a few days in immigration detention facilities is harmful to the health of children. Human Rights First documented in a series of reports the inadequate medical care of children in detention.

Secretary Nielsen’s claims that Flores legal standards limiting the length of detention are the reason families are coming to the United States are simply specious and ignore the reality on the ground. The U.N. Refugee Agency has documented that families and children fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have urgent protection needs, reporting a significant increase in numbers fleeing to neighboring countries. If the United States continues using harsh policies, other nations that host many more refugees may follow suit, triggering additional displacement.

For more information or to speak with Acer contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.