House Democrats call for end to family detention program

May 21, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C – Leading House Democrats joined former detainees and legal advocates today calling on the Department of Homeland Security to end its immigrant family detention program in a press conference Thursday morning.

The lawmakers, led by U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), cited the inhumane and cruel conditions in detention centers, and the harmful impacts of incarceration on the psychological health and well-being of mothers and their children.

"Vulnerable women and children fleeing violence and abuse in their home countries are not breaking the law – they're seeking asylum in the United States," said Lofgren. "That is a key tenant of our immigration laws. To throw them in jail – oftentimes with inadequate medical treatment, poor living conditions, and in some cases outright neglect and abuse – is not only unconscionable, but it's un-American. It's time we end this cruel detention system, and adhere to the Department of Homeland Security's own policy to use alternatives instead of jail for mothers and children."

"We need to shine a spotlight on the harm that detention does to children," said Gutiérrez. "We have seen studies on the long-term repercussions for children and heard reports of poor treatment in custody.  We know how detention reduces the chances of ever talking to a lawyer so that the truth of your circumstances comes out.  We all need to remember that these are our children and families.  They could be our nieces and nephews and neighbors' kids and we should not be in the business of jailing children."

"As Americans, we believe in fairness, we believe in decency, and we believe in the value of children," said Roybal-Allard. "Let us not ignore those values or the devastating impact our nation's family detention centers have on the mental health and development of these children.  Instead, let us apply our American values and use alternatives to detention that are effective, less costly, and more humane, such as supervised release."

The lawmakers were joined by Maria Rosa Lopez, a Honduran refugee and victim of violence and abuse who spoke of her time as a detainee for six months at the Karnes County Residential Center. Maria Rosa and her son Yoandri suffered so greatly due to the poor living conditions, undrinkable water, degrading behavior, and lack of access to legal representation, that she organized a hunger strike with other women at Karnes to protest their treatment and detention.

Dree Collopy, a pro bono attorney and partner at Benach Ragland. LLP, recounted her experience working with women and children held in inhumane conditions. She spoke of dehydrated and malnourished children, abusive and humiliating treatment, sexual abuse, and beatings. Her clients – mothers and children – were often afflicted with severe PTSD and depression that will take many years to treat.

Also in attendance to speak out against family detention were U.S. Reps. Rep. Linda Sánchez (D- Calif.), Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Judy Chu (D- Calif.), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Rep. Jared Polis (D- Colo.), Chair of the Progressive Caucus  Immigration Task Force, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), Co-Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force, Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas), Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D- Texas), Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas).

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