Washington, DC — Today and tomorrow, leading into World Children's Day (November 20), mobile ads calling attention to the detention of migrant children are being displayed throughout prominent streets of downtown DC. Although World Children’s Day should be a day of celebration for children all around the world, advocates highlight the contradiction of thousands of migrant children who remain detained in Health and Human Services (HHS) “emergency intake” and “influx” child detention sites. Emergency intake sites (EIS) were opened earlier this year in response to the growing number of unaccompanied children arriving at the US-Mexico border. In July, citing deplorable and abusive conditions, over 100 organizations urged HHS Secretary Becerra and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas to close all existing EIS by the end of September. Yet, almost eight months since the first sites opened, at least three emergency intake sites remain open, including the infamous Ft. Bliss and Pecos sites where reports have surfaced of reports of widespread depression among children, elevated levels of stress and desperation, allegations of sexual abuse, cage-like conditions, medical neglect, and more.
By detaining children in warehouse-like facilities with dangerously low standards of care as well as by maintaining a sprawling network of adult detention which keeps families and communities separated, advocates insist that the Biden administration is failing to protect migrant children's rights. In addition to a shut down of emergency intake and influx child detention sites, groups also call for an end to all immigrant detention and an end to the Title 42 policy which advocates say is contributing to the number of unaccompanied children and forcing some families to self-separate at the border.
Immigrant rights advocates demand the Biden administration invest in solutions that consider the best interests of children, including:
- establishing a safe and rapid process for keeping children together with trusted non parental caregivers at the border,
- improving the reunification process to more quickly place children with family or sponsors in the US by working with trusted community-based organizations, and
- expanding ORR’s network of licensed care facilities for unaccompanied children, with a focus on proactively engaging trusted, community based non-profits to open licensed, small-scale, homelike shelters.
In response to the ads and World Children's day, immigrant rights advocates issued the following statements:
Liz Castillo, Senior Organizer at Detention Watch Network, said:
“Large scale detention-like 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. Rather than continuing the failed and dangerous approach of detention that inherently puts people at risk, the administration must end Title 42 and fully restore access to asylum at our borders. Detention is never the answer for anybody.”
Barbara Peña, Associate Vice President of Advocacy, RAICES, said:
"Let’s be clear, the Biden Administration holds the power to end the harmful detention of children once and for all. As legal services providers and advocates, we will continue to apply pressure on DHS, HHS and the White House until migrant children are freed from the inhumanity of detention. There is no justifiable reason for anyone - especially children - to be held in large-scale facilities experiencing long-term trauma and prolonged separation from their families. We call on the Biden administration to end Title 42 and restore and expand asylum protections. Anything less is unacceptable."
Michael Ishii, Co-founder/organizer at Tsuru for Solidarity, said:
“The U.S. has a long history of incarceration and abuse of young people from communities of color: the separation of enslaved African children from their families at the slave auction blocks, the infamous boarding schools for Native children, the mass incarceration of Japanese American children in U.S. concentration camps during WWII, and now the detention of migrant children in Emergency Intake Sites. The Biden administration in its continuance of child detention policies is on par with this terrible legacy.”
Carolina Canizales, Senior Texas Campaign Strategist at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said:
“The entire immigration system must be transformed to center the best interests of children. We must re-envision how children are received at the border, pivoting away from an immigration enforcement model to adopt a child welfare approach. We ultimately need an overhaul of our nation’s outdated and punitive immigration laws to offer a path to legal citizenship and respond humanely to children in a timely way to prevent further trauma and begin healing.”
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.