Nearly 400 Rights Groups Demand Biden Permanently End Family Detention
"No version of family detention, whether referred to as a detention facility, short-term processing center, emergency family staging center, or by any other name, is acceptable," the groups said.
Nearly 400 immigration justice and other advocacy groups on Wednesday added their voices to the call for President Joe Biden to reject family detention, amid reports that the White House is considering a revival of the practice that was used by the Trump and Obama administrations—despite the fact that it subjected thousands of families to numerous abuses and trauma.
The ACLU, Bend the Arc, and the National Immigration Law Center were among 383 groups that sent a letter to Biden Wednesday morning, calling on the president to keep the pledge he made when he took office in 2021 "to end family detention and to pursue just, compassionate, and humane immigration policies."
Despite that promise, as Common Dreamsreported last week, multiple media outlets have reported that the administration is considering once against detaining families in facilities that have been used under the Biden administration to detain single adults.
The groups warned that even short-term detention for families with children is "unacceptable."
"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 your past policies and commitments," reads the letter. "No version of family detention, whether referred to as a detention facility, short-term processing center, emergency family staging center, or by any other name, is acceptable."
"Due process and access to counsel concerns will be magnified if the administration's recently promulgated asylum ban rule goes into effect, heightening the evidentiary standard for families to access the ability to seek protection."
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Department of Homeland Security's own medical experts have found that detention for any length of time, with or without parents or guardians, is harmful to children. The latter group, who served as whistleblowers when the Trump administration detained thousands of families and children, released a report in 2019 that detailed medical neglect which resulted in four deaths.
A 2017 report by AAP found that family detention centers provided "delayed medical care, inadequate education services, and limited mental health services," and that children who have been detained, even for short periods of time, "may experience developmental delay and poor psychological adjustment, potentially affecting functioning in school."
In 2016, the United Nations human rights office warned that the detention of children "can be devastating for a child and is not a legitimate response under international human rights law."
The letter sent Wednesday also noted that family detention robs families of due process, with "limited access to counsel at these facilities, making it nearly impossible to pursue protection claims under U.S. immigration law."
"These due process and access to counsel concerns will be magnified if the administration's recently promulgated asylum ban rule goes into effect, heightening the evidentiary standard for families to access the ability to seek protection," said the groups, referring to a proposed rule that would render certain undocumented immigrants ineligible for asylum.
"We urge you to reverse course on the proposed asylum ban rule, and are horrified that the punitive policy could be coupled with family detention," they continued. "This will essentially mean that these facilities will become deportation factories as families scramble to defend their asylum eligibility while trying to protect their children from the agony of detention."
The letter was sent as officials within the Biden administration are reportedly expressing concerns about the return of family detention. According to Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, ICE officials have "consistently" told the White House that "they don't want to get into the business of detaining children or families" again due to concerns about "safety, cost, and harm."
"We've seen family detentions before," a source from the agency told Sargent, "and it's been not pretty."
Biden appears motivated to introduce a crackdown on immigration to avoid criticism from the Republican Party, but as Sargent noted, "Republicans will attack him for creating no new consequences for border crossings even as we are seeing an escalation in them."
"But such attacks should be harder to mount if even ICE officials aren't on board with family detentions," he added. "And there's no reason for the administration to let fear of GOP attacks dictate anything. Instead, Biden should hew to the values that led him to criticize the practice in the first place and forcefully defend that decision."