After voicing their concerns about immigrant family detention, House of Representatives Democrats have written a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson on the issue.

According to the 136 House Democrats who have signed the letter, Johnson's department has heard many of their concerns regarding family detention "but has not fully grasped the serious harm being inflicted" on detainees, namely mothers and children.

"We believe the only solution to this problem is to end the use of family detention," the letter continued, which was spearheaded by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.

"We cannot continue to hear reports of serious harm to children in custody and do nothing about it," the letter stated, also signed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Detaining mothers and children in jail-like settings is not the answer. We have an opportunity to do the right thing and are confident that DHS has the capacity to honor our nation's longstanding commitment both to the protection and well-being of refugee families and to law enforcement and public safety."

The House Democrats acknowledged that detention, even for a "brief period of time," would still have detrimental effects to mothers and children. The congressional lawmakers also recognized Dr. Luis Zayas, dean of social work at the University of Texas, and his findings following 39 years of clinical experience and interview with families detained at the Karnes Residential Center in Texas.

"We are particularly troubled by the current practice of family detention because the detained population is largely comprised of refugees feeling violence and persecution in their home countries. We have heard horrific stories of sexual assault, intense physical violence, kidnapping and sex trafficking. These stories come not only from adult mothers, but also from young children who have been victims of such abuse," stated the letter by 136 Democrats.

The House Democrats are also concerned with the detainment of immigrants with serious medical needs. According to the letter, detained immigrants have included a child with brain cancer, a mother with congenital heart disorder and a child who had not eaten solid foods for two months.

"We must prioritize the health and well-being of mothers and children while also prioritizing enforcement objectives," the letter noted.

In a statement released from Reps. Gutierrez, Lofgren and Roybal-Allard's offices, the DHS "dramatically" increased its detention practices as a result of the influx of undocumented immigrants seeking asylum during summer 2014. The DHS claimed the detention policies are in place to deter future migration influx flows.

Immigrant rights advocates such as the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) have commended the Democrats' letter.

"We are encouraged to see that House Members are not turning a blind eye to widespread reports of inhumane treatment and prolonged detention of families in these facilities," said FIRM spokesperson Kica Matos. "These Congressional leaders understand that ending family detention is the only way to end the harsh treatment these mothers and children are facing.

"Prisons are no place for families. We must end the practice of locking up innocent mothers and their children. It does not align with our country's values, and it is downright immoral," continued Matos.


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