Immigration Executive Action Update: What Obama Did Not Address: Immigrant Detention Centers - What You Need to Know
President Barack Obama's immigration executive orders addressed issues including border security, expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), work permit authorization for undocumented immigrant parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, but one topic left unanswered for many immigrant rights groups is the management of detention centers.
As Latin Post reported, national immigrant rights groups have voiced concern about the family detention centers in Artesia, New Mexico, and Karnes, Texas. Despite the concerns, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced plans to establish a 2,400-bed family detention center in Dilley, Texas, known as the "South Texas Family Detention Center," located nearly 70 miles southwest of San Antonio.
Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Immigration Legal Council (NILC) and the Women's Refugee Commission (WRC) have issued statements about the three aforementioned detention centers regarding the detained immigrants' emotional and physical treatments and failure to receive due process despite meeting requirements.
Obama's national address about the immigration executive actions did not mention the detention centers despite calls to reform or close the facilities.
"While President Obama took a critical step forward to protect millions of hardworking family members, we were disappointed that, at the same time, the Administration plans to continue to expand the detention of immigrant mothers and children arriving at our borders, many of whom are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries," said WRC's Migrant Rights and Justice Program's Program Officer Katharina Obser in a statement to Latin Post.
According to Obser, previous experience has shown large-scale family detention cannot be practiced humanely. She added that the detention of mothers and children has undermined the family structure while children have lost weight.
"There is inadequate access to legal information and lawyers, which are critical to individuals seeking asylum," Obser said.
Obser stated the Obama administration's executive action efforts is an "important and meaningful step forward" for millions of families who have feared deportation and separation but thousands of families who have sought protection in the U.S. are left behind and still living in the detention facilities.
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, however, issued a memorandum for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE agencies on Nov. 20. Johnson outlined three civil immigration enforcement priorities for the three federal immigration agencies that detail the circumstances when an immigrant should be removed from the U.S., including the belief an individual is a threat to national security, border security and public safety. An ICE field office director, CBP sector chief or CBP field operations director could defer the removal of such individuals stating "compelling and exceptional factors," indicating the immigrant is not a security threat. Johnson added the removal could also be halted if "they qualify for asylum or another form of relief under our laws."
Johnson also stated the use of detention resources should not be expended on individuals "who are known" to have a serious physical or mental illness and are elderly, disabled, pregnant, nursing or demonstrates they are the primary caretaker of a child or infirm person.
The Artesia detention center is scheduled to shut down this month, but detainees in the center could be transferred to either Dilley or Karnes facilities in Texas. With the transfers, the concerns about having fair legal proceedings and treatment of the detainees remain a priority for immigrant rights groups. As Latin Post reported, WRC's Migrant Rights and Justice Program Director Michelle Brané said the Dilley facility will cost nearly $300 per day per person, or up to $260 million every year.
"Instead of resorting to arbitrarily detaining mothers and children in conditions we know to be inhumane and exorbitantly expensive, the administration should be investing in alternatives to detention that can ensure rule of law while maintaining our national family values," said Obser.
For the latest updates, follow Latin Post's Michael Oleaga on Twitter: @EditorMikeO or contact via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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