From the Worldwide Faith News archives

LIRS Report Reveals Mistreatment of Detained Immigrant Families

Date Fri, 23 Feb 2007 13:53:31 -0600

Title: LIRS Report Reveals Mistreatment of Detained Immigrant Families ELCA NEWS SERVICE

February 23, 2007

LIRS Report Reveals Mistreatment of Detained Immigrant Families 07-025-AL

WASHINGTON, D.C. (ELCA) -- A report released Feb. 22 details "disturbing" conditions at the two U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) facilities which house families undergoing immigration proceedings.

"Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families," released by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, lists several key problems with the treatment of detained families in the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, and the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility in Leesport, Pa.

Families are detained in "prison-like conditions" for days, months, and sometimes years while awaiting resolution of their immigration proceedings, according to the report. Many experience widespread psychological trauma and are subject to inadequate medical and mental health care, food service, recreation, and disciplinary practices, the report said. Many detained families are seeking asylum from persecution in their home countries, but have limited access to legal counsel.

"As a country that supports family values, we should not be treating families who have not committed a crime like criminals, particularly children," said Ralston H. Deffenbaugh Jr., LIRS president, Baltimore. Immigration violations are civil offenses, and family detention centers do not house anyone with a criminal conviction, he said.

LIRS is a cooperative agency of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Before the 512-bed Hutto Center opened in 2006, the majority of families apprehended at the borders or in the interior of the country were either released or separated from each other and detained individually, according to the report. Because the center increased family detainment capacity, the number of families detained in such facilities has increased dramatically since 2006.

Noting that LIRS supports keeping immigrant families together during immigration proceedings, Deffenbaugh said, "Now that the family detention system is beginning, we felt that it was vital to examine the implications of this expanding penal approach to family detention in order to inform the development of policy and practice that serves the best interests of children and families." Currently, there are no codified standards, licensing requirements, nor impartial oversight and inspection procedures in place regarding family detention centers.

The report made several specific recommendations:

+ Discontinue the detention of families in penal institutions and close the Hutto Center.

+ Institutionalize a preference for release of all families who can establish an identity and community ties and who do not pose a security risk, so families are released no more than three weeks after apprehension.

+ Implement alternatives to detention within three weeks for families not eligible for parole or release.

+ House families not eligible for parole, release or alternative programs in "appropriate nonpenal, homelike facilities" subject to oversight and inspection by an independent authority.

+ Do not redetain children released from Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody upon family reunification. The report details methods of entrapment of some immigrant parents, who are called to pick up their children from ORR custody, only to have the whole family detained.

+ Employ enhanced public-private partnerships to provide legal orientation programs, including legal information and pro bono legal access, for all detained families, including those in expedited removal proceedings. -- -- --

Audio of comments made at a Feb. 22 news conference by Ralston H. Deffenbaugh Jr., LIRS president, Baltimore, is at and by Emily Butera, LIRS policy advocate, Washington, D.C., is at on the ELCA Web site.

The full report, "Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families," is in a PDF format at on the Web.

For information contact:

John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or ELCA News Blog:

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