The International Problem of Child Detention — A Guest Post by Vicki Kline

Published On: Donate

BarbedWire600The Obama Administration has reinforced the detention of children and mothers seeking safety at our borders. Sadly, the practice of detention is not unique to the United States. However, people of faith around the world and advocacy groups, including LIRS, are speaking out against this inhumane practice. While some governments have listened and are pledging to end detention, the Obama Administration has yet to halt this practice.

In this guest blog post, LIRS Manager for Family Placement Alternatives, Vicki Kline, writes on the international problem of detaining vulnerable migrants and how we can end it.

Vicki writes:

Detention.

I decided to sit with the word for a while as I prepared to write this reflection. I wanted to try to feel it again, because I fear that it’s losing its meaning for me. We throw it about, in the shuffle of broad conversations about policies and programs, enforcement priorities and weighing national security risks. I’ve heard it painted as the only viable option for keeping this nation safe, the only acceptable solution. But this language is not sitting well with me, so I need to think more about what this word is really all about. Somehow, “detention” has become too easy to digest. So I dig a little deeper.

Synonyms: Arrest. Incarceration. Internment. Hindrance. Holding back.

Then I remember we’re talking about children and their families. Child Detention. Family Detention. In other words, Child internment. Family incarceration.

Those words weigh heavier on me. It’s a practice we’re currently utilizing here in the United States, a concept that’s hard to even imagine. In Fall 2014, LIRS released a report on family detention, Locking Up Family Values, Again. The report explores the traumatic use of detention for women with children, and makes important recommendations for ending this practice. Children need to be able to grow, develop, and feel safe. Their mothers need access to information about their rights, nutrition, safety, and physical and mental health care.

These concerns are part of an international conversation about the punitive approaches inflicted upon child migrants and their families throughout the world. A few days ago, BBC News released a story on a new report by the Australian Human Rights Commission, The Forgotten Children, detailing the suffering inflicted upon children by prolonged detention in Australia’s immigration camps. The report highlights deteriorating mental health conditions of children detained while discussing themes familiar to us here in the United States: court backlogs, mandatory detention policies for asylum seekers, limiting work authorization, resettling asylum seekers outside of the country. Though practical challenges, none of these justify the use of punishment for children and families fleeing persecution and violence, people urgently seeking a safer life.

I return to my reflection on our language, words that shape our choices and inform our actions. I focus instead on what I want to create, what solutions I want to propose. I believe language can help us shape our responses in this country and worldwide. So I change my focus to the opposite of “detention”: Aid. Assistance. Help. Freedom. Liberation. Release.

Visit the LIRS Action Center to send a message to your Congressional representative about detention.

Photo credit: Martin

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