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March 22, 2019

Family Incarceration Continues to Endanger Children, Impede Access to Legal Information & Waste Government Resources

The Trump Administration continues to incarcerate families in immigration jails and to push to hold them there for even longer. In fiscal year 2018, more than 45,000 parents and children were held in family detention facilities, and the administration recently requested a huge funding increase to expand capacity from 2,500 to 10,000 beds. It is also seeking to eliminate, through both regulations and legislation, the minimal protections for families set out by the Flores Settlement Agreement—including limits on how long children can be held in detention.

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Over the last two months, Human Rights First conducted research on the Trump Administration’s incarceration of asylum seeking and other migrant families and children. With a delegation that included pediatricians affiliated with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), researchers visited the country’s two largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) family detention facilities, both located in Texas, on February 26 and 27, 2019. At the time of our visits, ICE was detaining babies younger than 12-months-old and ten pregnant women.

Researchers spoke with ICE representatives, attorneys who represent asylum seekers, local advocates, and scores of incarcerated mothers and fathers. This report is based on those interviews, observations of the facilities, and outside investigations.

Our core findings are that detention harms children, interferes with legal representation, and wastes government resources.

Congress should ensure that the protections that safeguard families and children from longer-term detentions are upheld and reject requests from the administration to further expand family detention. A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) advisory committee recommended that family detention be discontinued altogether, as it “is never in the best interest of children.” ICE should follow that recommendation and instead employ community-based case management support for families instead of detention.

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