Joint Letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from 30 Women's & Children's Advocacy Organizations Calling for End to Family Detention

We Belong Together, First Focus and 30 organizations that advocate for the well-being of women and children sent this joint letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security today denouncing the practice of family detention and calling for the release of all families currently detained.

June 9, 2015

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security
United States Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretary Johnson,

We, the undersigned individuals and organizations advancing the rights of women and children in our country, write you with grave concern over the Department of Homeland Security’s immigrant detention policies and strenuously urge you to immediately end the harmful practice of detaining families. In calling for an end to family detention, we join our voices with members of Congress, immigrant rights advocates, our country’s faith communities, our judicial system and countless Americans who believe it is inhumane and un-American to incarcerate and criminalize families. The Department’s recent proposals on revamping the family detention system do not go far enough, the only solution is to end it now.

Over the past two years there has been a sharp increase in the number of women and children migrating to the United States from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Many of these women have survived domestic violence, sexual assault or other forms of gender-based violence. The children who accompany these mothers, in many cases, have not only witnessed but also directly experienced violence or other trauma. These families come to our borders for safety and protection. Instead they have been jailed in remote facilities with limited and inconsistent access to legal representation, social services or even basic information about how long they will be detained.

Recent litigation has affirmed important legal protections for children who are especially traumatized by incarceration. The Department’s facilities in Karnes City and Dilley, TX and in Berks County, PA have been unable to provide the minimal standard of care required for children including suitable living conditions, proper medical care, adequate recreation and leisure time and appropriate educational services in classroom settings. Rather than misplaced attempts to improve the conditions in which these children are confined, the Department should focus on how to effectively dismantle family detention and ensure the women and children currently confined are safely released.

We urge you to immediately end the practice of detaining families. Families should be guaranteed due process of law when apprehended at the border and families should be kept intact. Many of the families apprehended at the border have relatives to whom they could be released while their immigration cases are heard in the courts. In other cases, the Department should employ humane community-based alternatives to detention, which do not further criminalize families or use extreme and unwarranted surveillance measures. Continuing to criminalize and stigmatize these women and children will only keep barriers to accessing legal representation and social services supports in place.

Our country has a long and proud history of honoring families, protecting the vulnerable and defending human rights. It is time to bring the Department’s policies in line with these values.

Sincerely yours,

9 to 5
ACCESS Women's Health Justice
Advocates for Children and Youth
Alliance for Strong Families and Communities
American Federation of Teachers
Asian Americans Advancing Justice
Children First for Oregon
Children’s Defense Fund Texas
Children’s Leadership Council
Coalition on Human Needs
First Focus
George Washington University Global Women's Institute
Hampshire College Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program
Kentucky Youth Advocates
Make it Work
MomsRising
National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum
National Council of Jewish Women
National Domestic Workers Alliance
National Education Association
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
New Mexico Voices for Children
New Voices Cleveland: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice
New Voices Philadelphia: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice
New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice
UltraViolet
Voices for Utah Children
We Belong Together
Women's Refugee Commission