National Immigrant Justice Center
208 S. LaSalle St., Suite 1300, Chicago, IL 60604
Stop Detaining Families
- DHS Resources on Family Detention
- Advocacy Letters
- Opposition from Elected Officials
Recent rampant violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras has prompted a substantial number of mothers and children to seek refuge in the United States. Central America is one of the most violent regions in the world. In 2011, El Salvador had the highest rate of gender-motivated killing of women in the world, followed by Guatemala (third highest) and Honduras (sixth highest).
In response to this latest influx of refugees, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) significantly expanded detention of mothers and children by more than 4,000 percent from approximately 85 detention beds to nearly 3,800 beds. In December 2014, DHS closed the controversial family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico and opened a new, privately-run, for-profit facility in Dilley, Texas with capacity to detain 2,400 mothers and children by the end of May 2015.
Most of these beds will be filled by mothers and children fleeing extreme violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Among individuals entering family detention in fiscal year 2014, more than half of all children were age six or younger.
Families and children have sought refuge in the United States for decades, but detaining them on a massive scale is a disturbing new development.
Families are subjected to an alarmingly swift removal process, often without fair opportunities to present their cases. According to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, new detention facilities were built to quickly deport people and deter future migrants. Now under an injunction that prohibits DHS from detaining for deterrence, DHS has begun to justify family detention as a means of keeping families together, falsely implying that DHS would otherwise have no choice but to separate mothers and children. Reports show that the denial of due process is widespread and mothers and their children are in danger of being sent back to potentially life-threatening situations.
Why is detention inappropriate for mothers and children?
1. Family detention has negative physical and mental health effects, especially for children and asylum seekers.
- Detention re-traumatizes children and mothers who are survivors of violence as control over their lives is placed in the hands of guards and they lose autonomy over their freedom of movement. Allegations of sexual abuse by a guard at the Berks, PA facility are currently under criminal investigation.
- Children are particularly vulnerable. Children detained at Artesia experience weight loss, gastro-intestinal problems, and suicidal thoughts. Regardless of the amount of time they are detained, children can suffer psychological trauma and permanent mental health issues.
- Family relationships are more likely to break down the longer families are detained. Given the restrictions and disciplinary rules within a detention facility, mothers’ limited authority weakens their parenting skills.
2. Family detention impedes due process.
- Detention centers are located in South Texas where limited legal resources are overwhelmed, making it difficult to access legal services.
- Attorneys face a myriad of challenges working with detained families, including accessing the facilities in person or by phone, gathering their supporting documentation, and preparing cases moving expeditiously for credible fear interviews as well as bond and merits hearings.
3. Women and children face barriers to pursue asylum in detention.
- In an effort to deter future migration, DHS has been placing families in a results-oriented expedited removal system that robs detained families of fair and meaningful opportunities to pursue asylum.
- To proceed with the asylum process, mothers must pass a screening process known as the “credible fear interview” (CFI). DHS uses CFIs to gather information to evaluate whether individuals have a “fear of return” that could qualify them for asylum in the United States. Interview conditions, in which children may be present, can discourage mothers from being candid and sharing painful details of their experiences. Mothers have also reported that asylum officers rushed their interviews, and limited their responses.
- DHS tightened its credible fear standard in the spring of 2014 as the numbers of children and families arriving increased. Without an attorney, it is very difficult for these women to understand how their fears qualify them for protection in the United States. Initially,the credible fear screen-in rate for Artesia families was 37.8 percent compared to the nationwide average of 62.7 percent.1 After a huge effort to bring pro bono attorneys to Artesia, the credible fear screen-in rate increased to 70 percent, demonstrating the need for due process and access to counsel.
- End the use of family detention. The U.S. government essentially eliminated family detention in 2009 after a lawsuit challenged conditions. Warehousing vulnerable mothers and children in remote facilities is inhumane and wastes taxpayer dollars.
- Expand the use of alternatives to detention (ATDs), such as release on orders of supervision and community-based alternatives, which are more humane and cost-effective. ATDs cost 70 cents to $17 per day compared to $266 per day in family detention and have proven to work.
- Provide government-appointed counsel. Because immigrants are not given appointed counsel, individuals in detention struggle to find attorneys and navigate the complex immigration system. Access to legal counsel makes immigration courts more efficient by making sure individuals understand the process and their rights.
- Backgrounder on the Detention of Immigrant Families (Jun. 2015)
- Backgrounder on the Real Alternatives to Family Detention (Jul. 2015)
- Interactive timeline on the history of family detention (Jul. 2015)
- NIJC’s factsheet on family detention (En Español)
- NIJC's timeline on the Flores litigation
- NIJC's Buzzfeed list: 9 Problems with Detaining Refugee Mothers and Children
- Overview of domestic violence and sexual assault issues in family detention (En Español)
- U.S. District Court Judge issues a federal court order against family detention (Jul. 2015)
- NIJC's press release: NIJC Cheers Federal Court Order to End Family Detention
- CARA Pro Bono Project Letter to ICE detailing problems with release practices at Dilley and Karnes (Jul. 2015)
- Complaint to the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) by American Immigration Council, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), and Women's Refugee Commission highlighting serious mental health impact of family detention on children and mothers (Jun. 2015)
- Remarks on Impact of Detention on Children by University of Texas School of Social Work Dean, Luis H. Zayas (Jun. 2015)
- NGO press briefing following visit to Dilley, Texas, family detention camp (May 2015)
- "Families Behind Barbed Wire," a graphic novel authored by Artesia volunteers Stephen & Clio Reese Sady
- NIJC/American Immigration Lawyers Association/Women's Refugee Commission teleconference following tour of temporary housing at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas (January 2015)
- University of Texas letter on the environmental impact of the Dilley, TX Family Detention Center (Oct. 2014)
- Inter-American Commission on Human Rights press release following visit to southern border (Oct. 2014)
- NIJC and We Belong Together's Teleconference on the Karnes, Texas family detention facility (Sept. 2014)
- Detention Watch Network's report: Expose & Close: Artesia Family Residential Center, New Mexico (Sept. 2014)
- NGO Press Briefing on the Artesia, New Mexico family detention facility (Jul. 2014)
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Women on the Run: First-Hand Accounts of Refugees Fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico (Oct. 2015)
- Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: Refugees and Migrants in the United States: Families and Unaccompanied Children (Oct. 2015)
- Human Rights First: Family Detention in Berks County, Pennsylvania (Aug. 2015)
- American Bar Association: Family Immigration Detention: Why the Past Cannot be Prologue (Aug. 2015)
- Human Rights First: U.S. Detention of Families Seeking Asylum: A One-Year Update (Jun. 2015)
- U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Center for Migration Studies: Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immigrant Detention System (May 2015)
- Detention Watch Network's policy brief: Ending the Use of Immigration Detention to Deter Migration (Apr. 2015)
- United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture's report on children deprived of their liberty (Mar. 2015)
- Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service & Women's Refugee Commission: Locking Up Family Values, Again (Oct. 2014)
- Human Rights Watch: "You Don't Have Rights Here": U.S. Border Screening and Returns of Central Americans to Risk of Serious Harm (Oct. 2014)
- Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies: For-Profit Family Detention: Meet the Private Prison Corporations Making Millions by Locking Up Refugee Families (Oct. 2014)
- Statement by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson on reforms to family detention centers (Sept. 18, 2015)
- DHS announcement on custody redeterminations for detained families (Jul. 14, 2015)
- DHS Secretary Johnson's statement announcing "substantial changes" to family detention centers (Jun. 24, 2015)
- ICE statement released following a congressional visit to Texas family detention centers (Jun. 23, 2015)
- ICE announces "enhanced oversight" of family detention centers (May 2015)
- NIJC's press release: The Only Way to "Fix" Family Detention is to End it
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Asylum Office report on credible/reasonable fear interviews in family detention for the 2nd quarter of FY 2015
- ICE's Family Residential Standards
American Bar Association (Mar. 2015) | American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) (Sept. 2014) | Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Human Trafficking Advocates (Sept. 2014) | Faith Leaders (Mar. 2015) | Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) (June 2015) | National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (Nov. 2014) | National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women (May 2015) | New York City Bar Association (Jan. 2016) (May 2015) (Nov. 2014) | Women's and Children's Advocates (Jun. 2014)
- 156 organizations urge DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to stop using aggressive tactics against Central Americans, especially families and children, and to ensure due process before individuals are deported (Jun. 2016)
- 53 professors call on President Obama to designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Northern Triangle countries (Feb. 2016)
- 275 NGOs call on President Obama to designate TPS for Northern Triangle countries (Jan. 2016)
- Legal service providers call on President Obama and DHS Secretary Johnson to designate TPS for the Northern Triangle countries (Jan. 2016)
- 150+ NGOs call on DHS and DOJ to consider disabilities of Central American refugee families targeted for raids (Jan. 2016)
- 160+ NGOs oppose DHS raids targeting Central American refugee families (Dec. 2015)
- 140+ NGOs, academics, and legal and mental health/child welfare professionals oppose licensing for Texas family detention centers (Oct. 2015)
- 97 national NGOs call on President Obama to end family detention (Jun. 2015)
- 188 NGOs call on President Obama to end family detention (May 2015)
- Letter to President Obama opposing family detention (Mar. 2015)
- Letter from more than 120 NGOs opposing the opening of the Dilley, Texas family detention center (Dec. 2014)
- Letter to President Obama from 136 organizations (Nov. 2014)
- Letter to President Obama from groups working with asylum seekers and refugees (Nov. 2014)
- Letter to Senate and House Appropriations Conferees on unaccompanied children and displaced Central American families (Oct. 2014)
- Letter from more than 160 NGOs to President Obama (Sept. 2014)
- Letter from more than 100 NGOs opposing new family detention centers (July 2014)
- 26 Senate Democrats call for an end to immigration raids and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for the Northern Triangle countries (Jun. 2016)
- 22 Senate Democrats call for an end to immigration raids and TPS for the Northern Triangle countries (Jan. 2016)
- 146 House Democrats call for suspension of immigration raids and TPS designation for the Northern Triangle Countries (Jan. 2016)
- 19 Senate Democrats express concerns with access to counsel at family detention centers (Oct. 2015)
- Letter from Sen. Klobuchar to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson (Aug. 2015)
- 178 House Democrats urge Secretary Johnson to honor a court ruling that requires the government to end family detention (Jul. 2015)
- Letter from Ranking Members of Senate Judiciary and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committees urge Sec. Johnson to honor court ruling and end family detention (Jul. 2015)
- Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) speaks against family detention while introducing an amendment to defund family detention during House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee markup of FY16 DHS appropriations (Jul. 2015)
- 33 Senate Democrats call on DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to end family detention (Jun. 2015)
- Rep. Judy Chu's Op-Ed: "The Time to End Family Detention is Now" (May 2015)
- 136 House Democrats call on DHS Secretary Johnson to end family detention (May 2015)
- House Democrats call for end to family detention program (May 2015)
- Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley criticizes "detention camps" for immigrant families (May 2015)
- Sen. Harry Reid calls on the administration to end family detention (May 2015)
- Sen. Menendez statement opposing family detention (May 2015)
- Reps. Roybal-Allard, Gutierrez, and Lofgren Call for End to Family Detention Program (May 2015)
- Rep. Adam Smith statement opposing family detention (May 2015)
- Rep. Raul Grijalva's Op-Ed: "This Mothers' Day, Let's Reconsider Family Detention" (May 2015)
- Hilary Clinton criticizes family detention (May 2015)
- Sen. Leahy criticizes family detention in his opening statement for the Senate Judiciary Committee's oversight hearing of the DHS (Apr. 2015)
- Congressional women leaders call on President Obama not to ignore the plight of mothers in detention (Nov. 2014)
- Letter to President Obama from 32 Congressmen (Oct. 2014)
- Letter from leading Democratic Senators to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson (Oct. 2014)
- Letter from 28 members of Congress to DHS Secretary Johnson (Aug. 2014)
- Editorial: Detention Compounds the Trauma, San Antonio Express-News (3/27/2016)
- More Allegations Surface Over Medical Treatment at Berks Detention Center, Al Dia News (3/20/2016)
- Central American Immigrants, Wary of Recent Raids Sweeping Up Young People, Adjust to a Life of Fear, Los Angeles Times (3/11/2016)
- Texas Officials Want Controversial Family Detention Centers to be Labeled as 'Child Care' Centers, Think Progress (2/8/2016)
- Pennsylvania Shuts Down Immigrant-Family Detention Center, Philadelphia Inquirer (1/31/2016)
- Editorial: A Shameful Round Up of Refugees, New York Times (1/8/2016)
- U.S. Plans Raids to Deport Families Who Surged Across Border, Washington Post (12/23/2015)
- Detainees in Family Detention File $10M in Medical Neglect Claims, Huffington Post (8/11/2015)
- Exclusive: Family Detention Social Worker Speaks Out, McClatchy DC (7/27/2015)
- Judge Orders Release of Immigrant Children Detained by U.S., New York Times (7/25/2015)
- Homeland Security Chief Calls for "Substantial Changes" in How Immigrant Families are Detained, Buzzfeed, Jun. 24, 2015
- Editorial: Central America's Unresolved Migrant Crisis, New York Times, Jun. 16, 2015.
- I Know an American 'Internment' Camp When I See One, ACLU, May 27, 2015
- The 'South Texas Family Residential Center' is No Haven: It's an internment camp, The Marshall Project (5/21/2015)
- Editorial: End Immigration Detention, New York Times (5/15/2015)
- Long Shorts and Baggy Shirts: An Immigration Detention Facility Tries a New Method for Curbing Sexual Assault: Make the women dress differently, The Marshall Project (4/17/2015)
- A Federal Judge and a Hunger Strike Take on the Government's Immigrant Detention Facilities, New York Times Magazine (4/10/2015)
- Why We Need to End Family Detention--Again, Politico (3/30/2015)
- America's Controversial Immigrant Family Detention Camps, The Leonard Lopate Show (3/23/2015)
- Private Prisons for Immigrant Families Grow Despite Court Ruling Against "Detention as Deterrence," Democracy Now (3/25/2015)
- Part 2: Migrant Women Appear via Video from Detention Centers in Asylum Cases Amid Harsh Conditions, Democracy Now (3/25/2015)
- Immigration Officials Reviewing Order to Stop Family Detentions at Border, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 23, 2015
- The Shame of Family Detention, New York Times (2/8/2015)
- U.S. panel hears testimony on guard charged over involvement with inmate, Philadelphia Inquirer (1/30/2015)
- Immigration detention center in Dilley, Texas reveals language barriers, high costs, Latin Post (1/16/2015)
- Advocates say asylum cases rushed, due process limited, at new Texas immigrant-family jail, Truthout (1/16/2015)
- Family detention center in Texas is 'utterly unnecessary,' says immigration attorney, Huffington Post (1/14/2015)
- NIJC's press statement on the closure of Artesia (11/18/2014)
- South Texas family lockup will be nation's largest, Texas Star-Telegram (12/15/2014)
- Homeland Security chief opens largest immigration detention center in U.S., New York Times (12/15/2014)
- The child migrants crisis has faded, but family detentions are forging ahead, International Business Times (12/5/2014)
- Critics say ICE jails deals skirt rules, Houston Chronicle (10/11/2014)
- Child's detention despite citizenship reveals immigration case woes, Los Angeles Times (8/19/2014)
- Inside the remote, secretive detention center for migrant families, Vox (7/24/2014)
To learn more about immigration detention, visit NIJC's immigration detention resource page.
1. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Stakeholder Meeting, 12 Aug. 2014.