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Immigrants' Rights Groups Discuss Conditions of Detained Mothers and Children at Artesia Family Detention Center

First Posted: Jul 24, 2014 04:40 PM EDT
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immigration(Photo : Getty Images/Joe Raedle)

Immigrant rights groups spoke about the conditions at one detention center in New Mexico on Thursday, and the insufficient resources mothers and children are faced with.

Representatives of 22 groups met with mothers and children at a detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico. Immigrants' rights advocates and lawyers were allowed to speak to families but under "tightly controlled" tours. During a press call moderated by National Immigration Law Center Executive Director Marielena Hincapié, Women's Refugee Commission's Migrant Rights and Justice Director Michelle Brané, American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Immigrants' Rights Project's Cecillia Wang and National Immigrant Justice Center's Policy Director Royce Bernstein Murray spoke about the trip at the Artesia detention facility.

According to Hincapié, the situation at the U.S. and Mexican border is escalating due to children fleeing from violence from their native Central American countries. She explained they had to get an agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to meet with the families, but the DOJ only allowed conversations with adults at the detention center. Hincapié said mothers and children are crowded at the Artesia facility and many of them had their Due Process rights violated.

Hincapié added as Congress plays politics on immigration reform, "babies and mothers are in a state of limbo" due to the "political fodder" in Washington, D.C. She said it is "immoral" for Washington to be inactive on the issue.

Bernstein Murray stated many adults at the detention facility did not understand the current state of the immigration process.

"We found that access to counsel is limited," said Bernstein Murray, adding that it "complicates the mothers' ability to understand what's going on."

Bernstein Murray noted that the facility is equipped with BlackBerry devices. A problem, however, is the women don't know how to use the Blackberry devices and flip phones have been requested for the 600 people on site. Women were told they can only use the phones for two minutes but could lose phone access if there was "risky behavior," such as fights.

National Immigrant Justice Center's director of policy said the families have "minimal privacy" when making a phone call, even to their counsel. One woman reported that she was only told to contact family, not counsel, and if they wanted an attorney, they need to pay a fee despite counsel access being free.

Bernstein Murray stated the people in Artesia are unable to be released unless it is a humanitarian situation, such as pregnancy.

President Barack Obama has previously recognized the immigration situation as a "humanitarian crisis." For Brané, there hasn't been enough action.

Brané noted the staffers at the Artesia detention center are from other facilities and "don't have experience with children and families." She added that many polices, even by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) standards, were not in place.

"Many mothers, every mother I spoke to, said their children were losing weight and many of these children are very young," said Brané, who observed that the weight loss of a young child is noticeable.

"I observed and heard of a lot of depression or trauma," Brané said, particularly of the mothers in the facility.

"You can see the family dynamics breaking down," added Brané, as even children have asked their mothers to be deported because "they can't take it anymore."

Brané mentioned a conversation with a mother and her 14-year-old son. The son has been threatened by a gang, and due to the overcrowding at the Artesia facility, the boy was very nervous to speak. Mothers also didn't want to show emotion in front of their kids.

"We're very concerned with some of the recommendations by Congress to expedite the immigration crisis," said Brané.

A proposed legislation in Congress is a bipartisan measure by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, titled the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) ActOne provision in the HUMANE Act would allow the undocumented minor to make their claim to stay in the U.S. to an immigration judge within seven days of the child's Health and Human Services screening. An immigration court judge would also be required to make decision on whether or not an undocumented minor can stay in the U.S. Brané stated the timeframe is not enough for the detainees to make their case.

According to Wang, when people look back to 2014 and the immigration crisis, there is "a lot to be ashamed of." Wang said the lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are more focused on "detain and deport," a matter that is "illegal and immoral."

Wang said the U.S. government is blocking mothers and children from having a fair hearing. She shared a story of one mother of an 8-year-old was frequently recruited for a gang. Many of the people at the Artesia facility witnessed murders by gangs and there was no escaping it at their home country.

"In some cases, many were bewildered, many are not given notice of the process," said Wang, citing an example of one mother who was given the I-589 form, which is an application for asylum by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The form, however, was in English, and the mother was told to fill it out in English.

"The U.S. government is failing at following the law," said Wang, later adding, "It was unspeakably distressing to see these mothers with children detained."

According to Hincapié, they have called for a moratorium for the detainees at Artesia.

"Protection is the answer here," said Brané.

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