Humanitarian organization Church World Service appreciates Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s recognition of the need for structural changes and reform to the immigration detention system in the United States. In his recent statement, Secretary Johnson acknowledges that individuals should not be detained for long periods of time and that after passing a credible fear interview, asylum seekers should be released from detention.1However, structural changes will not heal a system that is inherently inhumane. CWS calls for an end to the detention of children, families, asylum seekers and vulnerable populations, and urges Secretary Johnson to implement the reforms articulated in his statement in a way that protects migrants and recognizes the dignity of each individual.
Detention centers re-traumatize women and children who have fled unimaginable violence in their home countries and seek protection in the United States. It is important to note that the act of seeking asylum is not illegal. The migration of families and individuals who make the journey to the United States to seek protections is completely legal under U.S. and international law. It is unnecessary and immoral to detain asylum seekers, and 88 percent of individuals in family detention centers have bona-fide claims to asylum.2 CWS urges the administration to instead use community-based alternatives to detention, which have proven effective in ensuring that 93-98 percent of individuals show up for their immigration hearings.3 Alternatives are also a more efficient use of federal resources, costing between 70 cents and $17 per day,4 as opposed to detention’s high cost of $164 per day, per person.5 Individuals should be released on their own recognizance whenever possible, and CWS urges DHS to provide robust oversight to ensure that bond determinations facilitate that goal.
The detention of children and families does not deter individuals from migrating, and detention should not be used in an attempt to deter migration. Also, due to the immediate threats of violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, many families cannot go through the lengthy and rigorous in-country processing “Central American Minors Affidavit of Relationship” program Secretary Johnson references in his statement. Moreover, this program is only accessible to children who have parents who are lawfully present in the United States. Countless children with undocumented parents or with more distant relatives are just as vulnerable and in need of assistance. While the CAM/AOR program is a positive one, it is no substitute for accessible asylum policies and procedures that ensure the U.S. does not turn away those in need of protection.
The violence, gang conscription and gender-based violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that has forced so many individuals to flee has not ceased. Individuals desperate for safety are seeking protection wherever they can — the region has seen a 1,200 percent increase in individuals seeking asylum.6 The reduced numbers of individuals arriving in the United States can be accredited not to detention, but to the escalation of Mexico’s dangerous border enforcement measures. Over the past five years, the United States has made significant contributions to this initiative, including funding, equipment, and training of Mexican military and police officials to prevent individuals from reaching the United States. From October 2014 to April 2015, Mexico detained and deported nearly 100,000 Central Americans.7Individuals intercepted in Mexico do not receive proper screenings for protection concerns, and a large percentage of those deported to their home countries are in fact eligible for international protection,8 making their deportationrefoulement, or unsafe return, which is illegal under international,9 U.S.10 and Mexican law.11
CWS calls on the Obama administration to end the detention of children, families, asylum seekers and vulnerable populations. Until U.S. resources are invested in addressing the root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle, and not security escalation, families will continue to make dangerous journeys to seek protection. CWS stands committed to working with the administration, as well as the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, to end family detention and to address the root causes of migration that cause so many to flee their homes.
1 Statement By Secretary Jeh C. Johnson On Family Residential Centers. June 24, 2015. www.dhs.gov/news/2015/06/24/statement-secretary-jeh-c-johnson-family-residential-centers
2 “USCIS Asylum Division Family Facilities Reasonable Fear” www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Outreach/PED-CF-RF-familiy-facilities-FY2015Q2.pdf
3 American Immigration Lawyers Association “Alternatives to Detention.” www.aila.org/File/DownloadEmbeddedFile/40553
4 “Congressional Budget Justification FY 14.” DHS. www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/MGMT/DHS-%20Annual%20Performance%20Report%20and%20Congressional-Budget-Justification-FY2014.pdf
5 “The Math of Immigration Detention,” National Immigration Forum. https://immigrationforum.org/blog/themathofimmigrationdetention
6 UNHCR Report “Children on the Run,” July 9, 2014. www.unhcrwashington.org/sites/default/files/1_UAC_Children%20on%20the%20Run_Full%20Report.pdf
7 Washington Office on Latin America “Mexico Now Detains More Central American Migrants than the United States” www.wola.org/news/mexico_now_detains_more_central_american_migrants_than_the_united_states and The Mexican Secretariat of the Interior, “Boletín mensual de estadísticas migratorias méxico, 2014.” www.wola.org/sites/default/files/Boletin2014_.pdf
8 UNHCR Report “Arrancados de Raíz www.acnur.org/t3/fileadmin/scripts/doc.php?file=t3/fileadmin/Documentos/Publicaciones/2014/9828
9 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14. www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml#a14; United Nations General Assembly, Declaration on Territorial Asylum, 14 December 1967, A/RES/2312(XXII).www.refworld.org/docid/3b00f05a2c.html; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html; and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Note on Non-Refoulement, 23 August 1977. www.unhcr.org/3ae68ccd10.html.
10 U.S. Code Title 8: Aliens and Nationality, Chapter 12: Immigration and Nationality, Section 1158: Asylum. http://uscode.house.gov
11 “Ley de Refugiados y Protección Complementaria” (Law on Refugees and Complementary Protection), UNHCR. www.acnur.org/t3/fileadmin/scripts/doc.php?file=t3/fileadmin/Documentos/BDL/2010/8150 and “Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, Colloquium on the International Protection of Refugees in Central America, Mexico and Panama,” RefWorld. www.refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?docid=3ae6b36ec.