|Teresa Waggener, director of legal services for the |
PCUSA Office of Immigration Issues marches at Dilley on May 2.
On May 2, a contingent of Presbyterians joined hundreds of other people of faith outside the Dilley detention center to call for the end to the inhumane incarceration of refugee mothers and children. Across the country, solidarity marches and protests are planned leading up to Mothers’ Day, including one outside the White House in Lafayette Park on May 2.
|Advocates vigil outside the White House on Saturday, May 2|
Join us in telling the Obama administration to #EndFamilyDetention.
The number of immigrants detained in our nation rose significantly because of the immigrant detention bed quota, a federal budgetary mandate that 33,400 beds be made available at any given time. In 2014, 32,163 immigrants were detained every day.
Family detention was a problem from the start. In 2009, President Obama closed the T. Don. Hutto Residential Center, located in Taylor, TX, which had housed families since 2006, because of concerns related to abuse by guards, improper nutrition and medical care. He announced that this signaled the end to family detention, other than the 90 beds in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
This was not the case.
By June of 2015, the United States will have the capacity to detain 4,000 women and children, a rise from 90 total beds in June of 2014. Since then, more than 2,500 families have been detained in four facilities: a retrofitted Federal Law Enforcement Training Campus in Artesia, NM; Dilley Residential Center in Dilley, TX; Karnes Residential Center in Karnes City, TX, and Berks County Residential Center in Leesburg, PA. The Artesia facility closed in November of last year, with remaining detainees moved to one of the two Texas facilities.
This is in response to the arrival of 68, 684 family units at the U.S./Mexico border in 2014. These families are fleeing extreme violence from the Northern Triangle of Central America: El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. The government cites public safety and concerns that families would abscond from their immigration hearings as reasons to incarcerate them. At the opening of the Dilley facility in December, 2014, Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, stated that family detention served as a deterrent to future migration.  Advocates point out that this detention is in clear violation of the 1997 settlement in Flores v. Meese case, that stated minors must be put in a family or legal guardian’s custody, or be detained in the least restrictive setting possible. Moreover, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child declared that the detention of children was fundamentally contrary to the dignity of children. The U.S. and Somalia are the only countries yet to ratify it.
The conditions in these facilities are substandard. Advocates have reported that children there are malnourished, dehydrated, and receive subpar medical care. Recently, mothers in the Karnes facility have gone on hunger strike protesting the conditions and the detention of their children.
The women and children detained in these facilities report partner abuse, gang rape and beatings, death threats, and religious persecution as reasons they fled to our shores. According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the majority of these families would qualify for asylum with proper legal representation. Notably, you cannot claim asylum unless you are on U.S. soil. Many of these families are looking for Border Patrol agents to apprehend them at the border.
Detention is not only inhumane; it is costly. Alternatives to detention, like ankle bracelets, cost around $22 per day, whereas beds at the Dilley facility costs nearly $300 per day.
Corporate profit is driving this surge of family detention. The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) operates the Dilley Center and GEO Group the Karnes Center. Both corporations spent $16 million dollars between 2008 and 2014 on federal lobbying, in addition to more than $132,000 in contributions to Congressional members who serve on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security (which controls the bed quota).  The result of this lobbying is clear.
As people of faith, we recognize that family detention impacts some of the most vulnerable peoples: mothers and children fleeing horrific violence and abuse. It is an affront to the Biblical mandates to care for the least of these and welcome the stranger.
The 211th General Assembly (1999) reaffirmed principles behind Presbyterian policy on immigration and refugee issues, saying, “Love of neighbor requires Christians to seek justice for refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants.”
Furthermore, in 2003, the 215th General Assembly published a “Resolution Calling for the Abolition of For-Profit Private Prisons,” stating, “since the goal of for-profit prisons is earning a profit for their shareholders, there is a basic and fundamental conflict with the concept of rehabilitation as the ultimate goal of the prison system.”
Family detention is the opposite of justice for these families. It is the exploitation of the most vulnerable for profit.
Take Action Now:
Call on the Obama administration to #EndFamilyDetention
Join protests in your local area: http://www.webelongtogether.org/endfamilydetention/events
** A lawsuit challenging family detention will be resolved within the next 30 days. A temporary ruling suggests that the judge will rule in the families’ favor, but the implications are unclear.
 “Transformation of Churches and Society through Encounter with New Neighbors” The 211th General Assembly (1999).