Washington, DC — Today American Friends Service Committee, CASA, Detention Watch Network, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Tsuru for Solidarity, and United We Dream delivered a letter to Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on behalf of 183 immigrant and human rights groups in firm opposition to the use of HHS influx facilities, especially on military bases, to detain unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the border.
In the letter advocates underscore that large scale facilities have historically been used in the U.S. as places of forced removal, detention, mass incarceration, and violence against communities of color, including Indigenous peoples and Japanese Americans. “This administration should not repeat mistakes of the past, especially when the lack of transparency and abuse at influx facilities, including military bases, has been well documented. While the administration has promised that current influx sites will be temporary, we have now witnessed these sites used repeatedly,” states the letter.
In addition to ending the practice of holding children in large scale influx facilities, the letter also calls on the administration to address underlying policies affecting the current situation with unaccompanied children and to implement long term solutions for the care of unaccompanied children including the following:
- Rescind the Title 42 border closure and fully restore access to asylum at our borders, including at ports of entry and ensuring unaccompanied children have immediate and consistent access to legal counsel, child advocates and interpretation services.
- In situations where children arrive without a parent or legal guardian, establish a process with the Department of Health and Human Services at the border to more quickly identify and vet family or sponsors to whom children can be released without the use of influx facilities.
- In cases where a sponsor cannot be quickly identified within 72 hours, prioritize small scale, non-restrictive settings for unaccompanied children in facilities licensed for childcare and run by trusted community based non profits.
“Large scale detention facilities are wholly inappropriate for children of all ages, and inherently harmful for any amount of time, as has been well documented by health professionals and child welfare advocates,” said Setareh Ghandehari, Advocacy Director at Detention Watch Network. “Rather than continuing the failed and dangerous approach of using large scale influx facilities for children, the administration must address immigration policies which have led to the current situation and go against the administration’s goal of ending family separation.”
“Any type of detention has devastating effects on the health and wellbeing of people, particularly children who can experience hypervigilance, sleep issues and low self-esteem,” said Dr. Satsuki Ina, Co-chair of Tsuru for Solidarity. “The normalization of influx sites represents an unacceptable expansion of detention with potential unforeseen dire consequences in the future, including the serious long-term medical and psychological issues for children.”
"No child or family should be deprived of their liberty for any period of time," said Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA. "Instead of investing resources in expanding our detention infrastructure, we should be investing in these children and families, placing them with appropriate sponsors and giving them access to the support services they need."
“Children have been coming to the southern border for years and federal officials have continually repeated the same mistakes by not seeing this as a child welfare issue,” said ILRC Staff Attorney Rachel Prandini. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials cannot be allowed to hold children in cages. Advocates with expertise in child welfare are much better suited to support unaccompanied children when they arrive at the border.”
The letter also details the impact of Title 42, a policy implemented in March of last year as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite public health experts underscoring the policy has no basis in public health. When originally implemented under the Trump administration, Title 42 resulted in anyone arriving at the border, including unaccompanied children, being immediately “expelled” or deported without any chance to seek asylum or any other form of relief. Now under Biden, Title 42 has remained in effect for adults and families arriving together, but not for unaccompanied children arriving at the border.
“Title 42 creates an impossible decision for families seeking safety in the United States. Parents and guardians should never be put in the position to face this false dilemma from the U.S. government, families should be permitted to exercise their legal right to apply for asylum together,” said Kristin Kumpf, Director of Human Migration and Mobility at American Friends Service Committee. “To address these underlying factors, we call on Secretaries Becerra and Mayorkas to end Title 42, end the criminalization of migration, end all metering policies that turn people away at the border and end all fast-track removal policies.”
Influx facilities differ from "emergency intake facilities," which are currently being used to minimize the amount of time children spend in the custody of Customs and Border Protection. According to the administration, these emergency intake facilities are intended to be short term.
Read the letter here.
Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level. Visit detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.