The federal immigration enforcement authorities recently announced they will open a massive family detention facility in Dilley, Texas. The Dilley facility will detain 2,400 mothers and children once it is fully operational and will be the largest and most expensive immigration detention center in the nation. It will also be the third family detention facility to be opened since June.
Amazingly, it is being constructed in direct response to children and families fleeing violence in Central America and seeking safety in the United States. Recent estimates have found that the Dilley facility could cost taxpayers up to $300 per person per day, or almost $260 million a year.
More important than financial cost, detention is entirely inappropriate for vulnerable women and children, especially those fleeing violence and persecution. Studies show that detention re-traumatizes survivors of trafficking and abuse. Additionally, detention in remote facilities with limited contact with the outside world severely impedes the ability to communicate with a lawyer or even gain a basic understanding of legal rights.
We already know that many of the women and children held in these facilities qualify for legal relief as asylum seekers. Just last week, a third woman being held in the Artesia, New Mexico family detention facility was granted asylum by an Immigration Judge. The Honduran woman, who is identified by her initials D.M.L. to protect her identity, testified to vicious abuse and constant threats from her husband before fleeing to the United States with her two daughters to seek safety.
While the horrific details of D.M.L.’s case are not unlike many of the stories shared by other mothers and children in these family detention facilities, D.M.L had access to a pro-bono attorney who helped her navigate the system and present her claim.
Despite this, the circumstances of detention centers make it extremely difficult to properly defend families. Lisa Laurel Weinberg, D.M.L.’s attorney, said that she was given the case only seven days before D.M.L’s asylum trial. She had four days to prepare the case from scratch and submit it to the Immigration Court in Arlington, VA. And perhaps most shockingly, because there were no medical professionals at Artesia, Ms. Weinberg was not able to document D.M.L.’s extensive scarring caused by her abusive husband.
“The fact that this particular woman, with a very strong political asylum case did not have legal representation one week before her trial does not reflect on the attorneys on the ground in Artesia,” Ms. Weinberg told us. “It reflects that the system of keeping families in detention hundreds of miles away from legal assistance prevents women and children from adequately accessing justice, undermines their right to due process and procedural protections, and puts them at risk for erroneous deportation.” The week before Ms. Weinberg took D.M.L’s case, there were over 550 women and children being held in Artesia, and just four attorneys on the ground.
“The current system is not just or humane,” Ms. Weinberg said.
D.M.L was incredibly lucky to have Ms. Weinberg represent her. But the last three domestic asylum cases from Artesia have been successful, meaning that these women and children need to be heard and protected. All vulnerable women and children deserve to have the opportunity to tell their stories and receive justice and protection.
LIRS has consistently rejected the inhumane practice of family detention. As people of faith called to welcome the newcomer and protect the vulnerable, we support the expanded use of Alternatives to Detention (ATDs), like LIRS’s Community Support Initiative, that are less costly and far more humane than traditional detention practices.
Please consider joining us in raising your voice through LIRS’s Action Center to ensure that your elected representatives know that people of faith reject family detention and stand for welcome for all persons seeking safety on our shores.