Over 380 Organizations Call On Biden Administration to End Family Detention For Good

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Washington, DC – Today, 383 organizations sent a letter to President Biden demanding an official policy terminating family detention amid reports the administration is considering reviving the widely condemned practice. The letter also details grave concern that the Department of Homeland Security will attempt to push families through the new expedited removal process laid out in the recently proposed asylum ban rule, which when coupled with family detention could essential create “deportation factories” as families scramble to defend their asylum eligibility while trying to protect their children from the agony of detention. 

Reinstating a policy of detaining families in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, even for short periods of time, would be a horrifying reversal of the administration’s policies and commitments. Like all ICE detention, family detention centers have a well-documented history of abusive conditions, including inadequate medical and mental health care, lack of access to water and other necessities, and inappropriate disciplinary tactics including threats to separate families.

The letter signatories urged the Biden administration not to return to family detention that has proven to have lasting trauma on children and families and to instead take steps to end the use of immigration detention altogether. Migrants, including families and children, must have the meaningful opportunity to seek asylum. They can and should be able to navigate their immigration cases in community not behind bars in detention.

Setareh Ghandehari, Advocacy Director at Detention Watch Network, said:

“If the Biden administration revives family detention, it will be yet another example of how the administration has reneged on its promises to bring fairness to the immigration system. This administration has doubled-down on the use of detention, surveillance, and restrictive border policies that result in deportations – tearing apart families and communities. We demand the administration act on the overwhelming consensus to shut down these detention facilities for good by issuing an official policy terminating family detention to ensure that no family is detained in ICE or CBP custody ever again.”

Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director, at the National Immigration Project, said:

"Family detention causes irreparable harm and inflicts unconscionable suffering. Every kind of expert - legal, medical, and directly impacted people themselves - has thoroughly denounced the policy. If the Biden Administration goes through with reinstating family detention, it will betray not only our communities, but also the very principles the administration claimed to espouse when President Biden took office.”

Naureen Shah, senior legislative counsel and advisor on immigrants' rights, at the American Civil Liberties Union, said:

“President Biden knew just how harmful family detention was when he condemned it on the campaign trail and when he ended it upon taking office – and he knows it now too. Children and families fleeing violence deserve to be met with dignity and compassion, not locked up behind barbed wire fences to deter other people in search of safety from coming to the United States. If he moves forward with reviving this brutal practice, we will fight him every step of the way.”

Azadeh Erfani, senior policy analyst, at the National Immigrant Justice Center, said:

“Immigration detention in any form hurts children, parents, and entire families and communities. President Biden knows this, which is why he ended the government’s use of family detention shortly after he took office. Unfortunately, his presidency has since chosen to recycle cruel and failed deterrence-oriented policies and ignore the detailed humane and effective solutions presented by experts which would allow the U.S. government to process asylum seekers in accordance with international and domestic human right obligations. We strongly urge the president to remember the extensive evidence of the severe long-term harm children and adults suffer after being detained, and avoid reinstating a policy that would permanently tarnish his legacy in connection with one of U.S. history’s most inhumane immigration policies.”

Andrea Carcamo, policy director with Freedom for Immigrants, said: 

“Family detention is a disgrace, no matter who’s in charge. It was wrong under previous administrations, and it is wrong today. Like other forms of immigration detention, the detention of families is defined by mistreatment and egregious abuses. Immigration detention—whether it be families, children or adults—is an inherently cruel and dehumanizing institution, one that is rooted in racism, xenophobia and corporations’ vested interest in profiting off of the suffering of Black and brown immigrants. The Biden administration must abandon any plans of restarting family detention and instead devote its focus to restoring and strengthening the asylum system so that the U.S. can welcome migrant families with care and dignity—not cages.” 

Eleanor Acer, Senior Director for Refugee Protection for Human Rights First, said:

“Medical experts warn that even short periods of detention harm children, so there is simply no humane way to jail families. Attempts to label detention as ‘processing’ or ‘custody’ do not alter these realities, or the damage inflicted. The Biden administration's proposal to put families in custody would traumatize children and families, waste government resources, and trample human rights law. The administration must not hold families in detention as part of its proposed asylum ban or for any other reason.  More broadly, this administration should end its misguided attempts to ban, jail, or otherwise punish people seeking asylum at U.S. borders." 

Nithya Nathan-Pineau, Policy Attorney & Strategist for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said:

“Reports that the Biden administration is considering reviving the inhumane and unconscionable practice of detaining families are completely shocking. The Biden administration should be working to dismantle the immigration detention system – a system rooted in white supremacy which along with this country’s criminal legal system, works to target Black immigrants and immigrants of color for arrest and deportation. Rather than dismantling detention, Biden is considering once again expanding the system to jail families including infants and children. Family detention has been condemned by human rights activists, the child welfare community and medical experts – because it is unjust, inhumane and detrimental to the growth and survival of families. The ILRC urges the Biden administration to  work with us to end immigration detention once and for all.”

Read the letter here. Drafted by Detention Watch Network, American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, Amnesty International USA, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Freedom for Immigrants, Human Rights First, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, National Immigrant Justice Center and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.