Immigration Detention Causes Malnutrition and Psychological Trauma in Children — National Action Alert

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button_icon_national_alert2A few weeks ago, Nora Skelly, former LIRS Assistant Director for Advocacy, shared a powerful reflection of her visit to the Artesia, NM detention facility currently used to detain hundreds of mothers and children from Central America. While we have seen tremendous media coverage of the inhumane conditions at the Artesia facility, less attention has been paid to the family detention facility recently opened in Karnes County, Texas.

Unlike the Artesia facility, which was previously used as a U.S. Border Patrol training center, the Karnes facility was originally designed in 2012 as a “civil” detention facility for adult migrants facing deportation. Touted as a model facility that exemplifies President Obama’s reforms to the sprawling immigration detention system, it includes recreational facilities, a pharmacy, and guards wearing polo shirts. While these are welcome changes from the punitive, prison-like settings of other immigration detention facilities, there is simply no humane way to detain children and families.

Detention is psychologically traumatic. Vulnerable newcomers often lack a full understanding of why they’re being detained or what their legal rights are. Numerous human rights organizations have found  detention to be inherently psychologically damaging by further aggravating isolation, depression and mental health problems associated with past trauma. Incarcerating vulnerable individuals, such as women and children, in jails or jail-like settings poses a serious threat to psychological health and risks re-traumatizing victims of abuse, torture and human trafficking. Already, children at the Artesia facility are showing signs of malnutrition and some are losing weight.

Detention prevents full access to legal services, opportunities for visitation, and long-term integration for vulnerable individuals. The LA Times reported that an 11 year old U.S. citizen was held in detention in Artesia, NM for more than a month. Had this child not had a chance encounter with an attorney who happened to be visiting the facility, he would likely still be detained or even deported. This highlights the need for vulnerable persons to have full and fair access to due process and legal representation.

There are effective and efficient alternatives. Alternatives to Detention (ATDs) have been proven to be more humane and cost-effective. These ATDs – ranging from most-restrictive electronic ankle bracelet monitoring to least-restrictive community-based support models – have been shown to ensure individuals comply with their immigration court proceedings while also respecting their freedom and human dignity.

LIRS has created a national model of community-supported release, the Community Support Initiative, which balances the government’s need for compliance with the human rights of justice and liberty. LIRS works with coalitions of service partners in seven communities—Arizona, Austin/San Antonio, Boston, Chicago, the New York Metro area, Seattle, and the Twin Cities—to provide legal services, case management, and housing for vulnerable migrants. We also track U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement referral practices and participants’ compliance rates with immigration court proceedings and study the program’s cost effectiveness.

During this crucial time of August recess, policymakers need to hear from people of faith. We oppose the harmful practice of family detention and support fairness, justice, and compassion for all those seeking safety on our shores.

Please visit our August Recess Advocacy Guide for information on how to get involved and meet with your elected representatives. To directly help families affected by detention, learn about our Houses of Welcome.

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