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Immigration Reform Update: Immigrant Rights Groups Call for Closing Artesia, Karnes Detention Centers as Report Details 'Inhumane' Conditions

First Posted: Oct 30, 2014 04:24 PM EDT
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Immigrant rights groups released a report detailing the conditions women and children are living in detention centers in the U.S. that have been referred to as "inhumane" and "negligent."

To coincide with the launch of the report, titled "Locking Up Family Values, Again," a press call including members of the Women's Refugee Commission (WRC) and Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services (LIRS) discussed the current and future mechanisms of family detention centers in the U.S. According to WRC's Migrant Rights and Justice Program Director Michelle Brané, President Barack Obama's administration has "reversed course" and has "arbitrarily" detained mothers and babies into the detention centers.

"It is shocking that the Obama administration would return to the use of family detention after the practice has been universally recognized as inhumane and detrimental to children's health and wellbeing," said Brané in a statement. "We have observed too many incidents of abuse and gross negligence inside these facilities that have resulted in serious trauma and family separation. Family detention is unequivocally inappropriate and unnecessary."

Brané added that the administration should reform its "misguided" policies immediately and close all new detention facilities and apply alternatives.

According to Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, (D-CA), the detained women have been solicited by the facility's guards in exchange for sexual favors. Some of the women, who fled their native country due to violence and sexual abuse, have once again been subjected to sexual abuse by the guards. Roybal-Allard said most of the detained women come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Roybal-Allard called for the victims of sexual abuse to not be deported in order to address the allegations of further assault within the detention facilities, namely the Karnes County Residential Center in Texas.

"We believe detention is inappropriate," Roybal-Allard said, adding it doesn't make sense for women who are victims of violence and sexual assault. "We need to stop treating them like criminals."

Brané acknowledged the Obama administration has increased beds for the detainees to 1,200 beds with "an enormous cost" of the taxpayer. Plans are set to create a new family detention center in Dilley, Texas. Brané said the first two months of operations of the Dilley facility would cost taxpayers $96 million and estimated $300 million per year. She said Congress has to look into how taxpayer money is spent on immigrant detainment, and lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are able to halt family detention and the creation of new facilities.

Fragomen Worldwide attorney Rebecca van Uitert served pro bono for the detained mothers and children at the Artesia, New Mexico. Van Uitert said the conditions at Artesia have augmented trauma to detainees who have encountered violence and death threats from their native country. She noted a "trembling" girl lost over 10-lbs within the first three months of detainment and feared of being separated from her mother even for a brief moment.

LIRS Access to Justice Director Liz Sweet said individualized assessments have to be made for the detained women and children. American Immigration Lawyers Association's Artesia Pro Bono Project lead attorney Christina Brown added the detainees are seeking protection in the U.S. through asylum but have encountered insufficient basic needs at the facilities. Brown claimed the government has "tried to railroad" the asylum cases despite being eligible to stay in the country based on existing U.S. laws.

The findings of the report are based on tours at the Artesia and Karnes detention facilities in addition to interviews with the centers and government officials, detained families, and legal and social service providers. The report recommended the closure of the Artesia, Karnes and Dilley facilities, improve screening procedures and revise policies of no or high bonds for detained families.

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