In wake of court ruling, Texas groups call for halt to expansion of private family detention camps, release of refugee families

February 23, 2015

Obama Administration should honor federal judge’s order to halt the use of detention as a deterrent to migration; prioritize community-based alternatives to detention

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Texans United for Families and Grassroots Leadership today called on President Obama to immediately halt the expansion of two for-profit south Texas family detention camps and prioritize release of asylum-seeking mothers and children being held in these camps.  A federal court on Friday temporarily blocked the policy of detaining families as a deterrent to future migration and sharply rebuked the administration's national security justification for prolonged detention of refugee families.

“The court spoke clearly last week,” said Peggy Morton of Texans United for Families.  “There is only one right move left for the administration: To free the families.”

Since the summer of 2014, Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) has dramatically expanded the practice of detaining asylum-seeking women and children, mostly from Central America, in prison-like detention camps in Texas. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters this summer in New Mexico that the reason for the detention was to send a message. "Our message to those who are coming here... 'We will send you back,'" Johnson said.

But U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg in Washington said that policy was “likely unlawful.”  Boasberg ordered federal officials to stop detaining asylum seekers “for the purpose of deterring future immigration to the United States, and from considering deterrence of such immigration as a factor.” Friday's ruling, the result of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of Texas Law School, puts the policy on hold pending a hearing later.

"Incantation of the magic words 'national security' without further substantiation is simply not enough to justify significant deprivations of liberty," the judge wrote.

While this development is a monumental win for immigrant rights advocates, it does not prevent the administration from continuing its current practice of locking up asylum-seeking families under other justifications. However, it does ban ICE from using deterrence as the reason for denying bond to all asylum-seeking families.

“Given this ruling, ICE should immediately abandon its current plans to expand the detention camps in Karnes City and Dilley,” said Cristina Parker of Grassroots Leadership. “Then family detention should be ended once and for all.”  

Texans United for Families (TUFF) is a network of social service, legal, advocacy, student, and community groups and individuals working to end immigration detention and to demand the recognition of human rights for all, regardless of immigration status.  TUFF was formed in 2006 during the campaign that successfully ended family detention at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, just north of Austin, in 2009. TUFF members in their mission to fight back against immigrant detention and deportation close to home. In response to the influx of Central American families and children seeking refuge at the border, the Obama Administration announced the return of family detention in 2014. TUFF is fighting back to end this inhumane practice.
Grassroots Leadership is national organization based in Austin, Texas that works to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education.