DHS Secretary admits that family detention is flawed, yet plans to continue inhumane policy

June 25, 2015

Grassroots Leadership calls on DHS to end, not mend, family detention

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Yesterday’s statement by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson lays out “substantial changes” to the Administration’s family detention policy, but falls short of ending the detention of refugee families or closing the detention camps run by the for-profit prison corporations that benefit from mass family detention.

“It is not possible to fix family detention; the only solution is to end it,” said Cristina Parker, Immigration Programs Director for Grassroots Leadership. “The detention of mothers and children fleeing violence for any length of time is inhumane and unnecessary. Even short-term detention inflicts psychological damage on already-traumatized mothers and children. Furthermore, promising that detention will be ‘short-term in most cases’ is not sufficient assurance that the current policy of long-term detention will not continue.”

Following the announcement by Johnson, release will remain contingent on the payment of bonds, which is difficult for Central American families fleeing violence who rarely have access to substantial financial resources. The high cost of these bonds is another reason why Johnson’s announcement doesn’t go far enough. Recent bonds have ranged from $7,500 to $10,000.

Any continued use of family detention also still lines the pockets of the for-profit prisons, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, which operate the two largest family detention centers. These profits come at the expense of some of the most vulnerable immigrants who cross our borders to seek asylum, as permitted by international law. Continued use of these for-profit prison contractors to detain families also violates legal provisions that state that children must not be detained in secure, unlicensed facilities.

Additionally, plans to conduct credible fear interviews “within a reasonable timeframe” don’t inspire confidence because what’s “reasonable” can change quickly and ICE has been known to ignore its own directives. We will continue to monitor DHS to hold the agency accountable to assure that there are no additional adverse effects for detained families resulting from this policy change.

“It is impossible to make family detention reasonable or humane,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership. “Mass family detention is an extremely recent development and is emblematic of our society’s rush to use incarceration as the solution to any difficult issue. The Administration ended mass family detention once in 2009, and they can and should end it again today.”

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Grassroots Leadership works to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education. For more than a decade, our Austin, Texas office has advocated for alternatives to immigration detention and coordinated visits to immigrants in detention centers.


Contact: Cristina Parker, cparker@grassrootsleadership.org, 915-497-2747