Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

The End of Family Detention is in Sight

September 15, 2015

  By Susan Gunn, Communications and Outreach Associate
Columban missionaries hosted the first meeting of the Detained Migrants Solidarity Committee at the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, Texas, on September 3, 2015.

Columban missionaries hosted the first meeting of the Detained Migrants Solidarity Committee at the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, Texas, on September 3, 2015.

Finally, after more than a year of efforts by advocates across the country, hundreds of immigrant women and children may soon be released from detention.

A federal judge in California ruled that the Obama administration has until October 23 to begin releasing the hundreds of women and children in detention who are awaiting their asylum hearings. Government lawyers may appeal the decision.

Federal Judge Dolly Gee, the daughter of immigrants from rural China, began her 15-page ruling with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.”

In denying the Obama administration’s appeal to her ruling in July, Gee said the government’s response was “rehashing many of the same arguments which the Court previously rejected.” She wrote that the attorneys had “utterly failed to satisfy the requirements for a motion for reconsideration.”

In her earlier ruling, Gee criticized the Obama administration for allowing U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its contractual private prisons partner, Corrections Corporation of America, to operate detention centers that violate the 1997 Flores Settlement. The Flores Settlement says that federal authorities, when detaining children, must provide the least restrictive setting possible and should generally favor a policy of releasing them. She described the treatment of immigrant children by U.S. Border Patrol as “deplorable.”

The government lawyers argued that detention is necessary for two reasons. First, to prevent another surge of migrants coming across the U.S.-Mexico border. Second, to combat rumors that people can increase their chances of being released from detention if they bring their children on the dangerous journey. This argument is “speculative at best, and, at worst, fear-mongering,” Gee wrote in her ruling.

But within the ruling, Gee said that mothers and children could be held beyond the 5-day requirement –  for up to twenty days – under “extenuating circumstances,” such as last summer’s surge of Central American migrants.

Important questions remain: Will the Obama administration appeal? Do current migration levels qualify as another surge and “extenuating circumstance” warranting twenty days of detention? How will the twenty day limit be enforced?

What we do know is that family detention goes against the tenets of Catholic social teaching. Detaining young migrant women and children as a response to their flight from persecution violates human dignity and human rights, and causes psychological and emotional harm to vulnerable persons. Migrants have already experienced trauma in their home countries and on their journey to the United States, especially the many girls and young women who are sexually assaulted. Detaining them only exacerbates these traumas.

The majority of these families are no threat to our country and could live peacefully in any of our communities while awaiting their court hearings. Relatives, friends, Catholic organizations and other social service organizations are ready and willing to provide community-based sponsorship and case management to ensure that migrants appear in immigration court.

We continue to ask the Obama administration to end family detention. Your support and solidarity is essential. Family detention must end.

Faith in Action: Ask President Obama to End Family Detention