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Democrats Urge End to Detention of Immigrant Families

Immigration activists rally outside congressional offices earlier this year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Immigration activists rally outside congressional offices earlier this year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With thousands of undocumented immigrants still seeking asylum from Central American countries, 136 House Democrats sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson Wednesday calling on the Obama administration to end family detention.  

After the massive influx of unaccompanied minors and mothers with children last summer, the DHS renewed the mass detention of immigrant families — individuals who had previously not been held while waiting for immigration courts to process their asylum claims. But with many of those families still awaiting final decisions on whether they can stay in the United States, Democrats are expressing concern over the “jail-like facilities.”  

“For nearly one year we have been closely following the troublesome conditions of confinement, due process issues, and serious developmental medical concerns of those being detained,” the letter , which was signed by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., reads.  

“We believe your Department has heard many of our concerns but has not fully grasped the serious harm being inflicted upon mothers and children in custody,” the letter continues. “We believe the only solution to this problem is to end the use of family detention.”  

Spearheaded by Luis V. Gutiérrez of Illinois and Zoe Lofgren and Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, the letter — a direct rebuke of President Barack Obama’s emergency border policies — calls detention practices of mothers and children “detrimental” and “not reflective of our values as a nation.”  

Specifically, the letter raises issue with detaining children who have already been victims of abuse, claiming that detaining them in these facilities “exacerbates past trauma and raises unique and serious problems.”  

Democrats also express concern in the letter over using the detention facilities as a deterrent to other potential immigrants, as well as concern over detaining mothers and children with “serious medical needs.” The letter points to a child with brain cancer, a mother with a congenital heart disorder, a baby only 2-weeks old, and a 12-year-old child who reportedly hasn’t eaten solid food in two months.  

“We must prioritize the health and well-being of mothers and children while also prioritizing our enforcement objectives,” Democrats write. “Detaining mothers and children in jail-like settings is not the answer.”  


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