Women’s Refugee Commission Still Concerned about Continued Detention of Families at Berks Facility
The Women’s Refugee Commission is thrilled to learn that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will stop detaining families at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas as part of newly emerging plans for significant changes to U.S. immigration detention policy. This announcement, coupled with the administration’s ongoing review of the detention system and emerging understanding that the current criminal model of immigration detention is inappropriate for civil detainees, is an encouraging first step away from the punitive methods of immigration detention that underwent a significant expansion over the last five years.
“The decision to stop detaining families at Hutto lends credence to the administration’s assertions that it plans to expand the use of alternatives to detention and create a civil system that reduces the use of detention for vulnerable groups such as women, families and asylum seekers,” says Michelle Brané, director of the Women’s Refugee Commission’s detention and asylum program and author of its February 2007 report on family detention, Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families. “This is absolutely a move in the right direction, and we welcome the positive indications that the new administration wants to work with us to bring treatment of individuals in immigration proceedings more into line with our national values and with international law.”
The Women’s Refugee Commission has long been at the forefront of efforts to urge ICE to consider alternatives to detention for families and asylum seekers, in addition to using more humane detention models that are better suited to the needs of these populations.
But while today’s announcement is the first concrete indication that it envisions a detention system that expands the use of alternatives to detention for people who have previously been subject to detention, the decision covers only the Hutto facility and does not address concerns regarding the use of family detention as national policy. Nor does it take into account conditions at the other existing facility or at future family facilities. The family residential standards implemented by ICE in 2008 are based on adult criminal standards and fail to ensure a suitable environment for families with young children.
“We remain concerned that ICE will continue detaining families at the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility in Leesport, Pennsylvania,” said Brané. “While conditions there were not as shocking as those at Hutto, they are not appropriate. For example, children over five, are separated from their parents at night. We believe that families should not be detained unless absolutely necessary and only for an extremely short period of time.”
Although the overarching changes outlined in the administration’s announcement are indicative of new thinking in regards to immigration detention policy and a new commitment to oversight and accountability, the announcement does not change the fact that some 440,000 people are expected to be detained in the U.S. this year.
“We can see that, clearly, ICE has listened to our concerns and is exploring ways to address them,” said Brané. “But we have a long way to go in reducing the use of detention and ensuring that individuals who must be detained are treated with dignity and guaranteed due process under the law. We look forward to concrete improvements in conditions, an increased reliance on alternatives and to working with the administration to develop immigration policies that respect our laws as well as our obligations to those seeking protection on our shores.”
Read the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency's press release on their planned reforms to the US immigration detention system.
Read the latest news on the T. Don Hutto Detention Center.