On November 6, Lawyer Moms of America filed comments opposing the DHS and HHS proposal to replace the longstanding Flores Settlement Agreement (“FSA”) with rules that would allow for indefinite detention of asylum-seeking children with their parents. (The full comments can be found here.) The proposal also would eliminate state licensing requirements for ICE family detention facilities and allow ICE to set the standards of care for private contractors operating such facilities. This regulatory proceeding is the latest front in the Trump Administration’s all-out war on immigrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees. More than 65,000 comments were filed.
Lawyer Moms of America told the government: THIS PROPOSAL CANNOT STAND. DHS and HHS have shown that they deserve more oversight, not less; less autonomy, not more. The government wants to lock up families in prison-like facilities for indefinite periods under “standards” of “care” established by an agency with a documented history of causing trauma, allowing abuse, providing sub-par medical treatment, and incapable of even ensuring safe drinking water for those in its custody. This is unthinkable. The Administration seems to have learned nothing from the vast public outcry and sharp judicial rebuke regarding its immoral and inhumane family separation policy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ February 2017 report on family detention makes clear that DETENTION CENTERS AND CAMPS ARE NOT SAFE PLACES FOR ANY CHILD. Thus, although the government claims that the proposed rules would “parallel the relevant and substantive terms” of the FSA and “satisfy the basic purpose” of the FSA in “ensuring that all juveniles in the government’s custody are treated with dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors,” nothing could be further from the truth. With this proposal, the government demonstrates yet again its blatant disregard for morality, humanity, and the law. It is a wolf that cannot even be bothered to fully don sheep’s clothing; a fox that seeks not only access to the hen house but to be the sole holder of the keys.
Eliminating basic state licensing requirements for family detention facilities in favor of self-licensing would dismantle established protections for children in custody. Without accountability standards, there is no way to ensure conditions of care would meet current minimum standards for keeping children safe. Making matters worse, the government proposes to enter into contracts with for-profit companies to administer new family detention facilities. This shamelessly transactional Administration thus will be motivated to keep children and families in detention longer, resulting in more money for profiteers.
Immigration policy is complex, but the absence of consensus on comprehensive and effective reform does not give this Administration license to devalue the lives, health, security, and humanity of people seeking refuge within our borders. As Americans, we should all be able to agree on some basic human rights: children should not be ripped from their parents’ arms simply because the government wants to be cruel, nor should children and families be thrown in jail indefinitely while fleeing extreme violence, instability, and poverty. Detaining children for months (or years), with or without their parents, just because they are seeking safer lives, would render moot the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Families facing persecution in their home nations are entitled under domestic and international laws to seek asylum in this country, and asylum seekers are entitled to humane treatment.
The proposal also exposes the Administration’s sham claims of fiscal responsibility. New family detention centers could cost billions of dollars, and the government has not sufficiently considered viable and less costly alternatives to detention. DHS and HHS decline to estimate for taxpayers the costs of this proposal; they cannot calculate the expense because (unconscionably) they do not know how long they will detain children. Meanwhile, to fund this effort, even before completing this proceeding and considering public comments, the Administration as shifted funding away from critical needs—such as Federal Emergency Management Assistance disaster relief—to family detention.
And let us not forget that THE FAMILY SEPARATION CRISIS IS NOT OVER. To this day, the government continues to drag its feet, create confusion, and delay information sharing with disingenuous and shameful excuses. At no time has the government admitted that it broke the law and violated human rights when it separated families, despite the court’s finding that these actions violated the Constitution. Instead, the government continues to normalize and bureaucratize actions unconscionable to millions of Americans. The government’s implementation of family separation, its entire failure to formulate a plan for reunification prior to separation, and its carelessness in not tracking parents and children are shocking and, ultimately, disqualifying in terms of giving the Administration more latitude to assume responsibility for children’s well-being.
If the Administration is counting on the American people to look the other way, Lawyer Moms of America says no. We say no to policies that expand unnecessary and indefinite incarceration, create lasting trauma for children, offer no public safety benefit, have open-ended cost estimates, and undermine the promise of America and the American immigration story. This proposal represents a significant step backward and a threat to basic protections for migrant children and families, and it must be rejected.