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Plight of children and families fleeing Central American violance continues

While the news media has now focused their attention on other news, the plight and circumstances of children and families fleeing violence in Central America continues unabated. Hundreds of women and children have been deported on an expedited basis, and some deportees – even child deportees – have been murdered upon their arrival back home. Current detention and removal policies have been widely denounced as both inhumane and unconstitutional, and in violation of U.S. legal and moral obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

As previously reported, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), among other groups, has stepped in to provide pro bono legal representation during the last three months, primarily at one of the detention facilities in Artesia, NM. Attorneys with long histories of representing clients at remote detention facilities have described Artesia as not just the worst situation they have ever encountered, but something far worse than anything they could have imagined. Their client interviews reveal that hundreds if not thousands of mothers and children have suffered domestic violence, sexual assault, gang violence, and other atrocities protected under U.S. asylum and humanitarian law. Yet, these individuals most likely will be repatriated to their home countries. Based on hundreds of interviews with detained families that these expert lawyers have conducted, it is clear that the center at Artesia is a due process failure and a humanitarian disaster, and it should be closed immediately.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has continued its expansion of family detention centers, including a new facility in Karnes, Texas, with at least 500 beds, and a planned 2,400-bed facility in Dilley, Texas, expected to open in early November. The South Texas Family Residential Center will be one of four family detention centers DHS is using to increase its capacity to detain and expedite the removal of adults with children who illegally crossed the Southwest border. Within months, DHS will be detaining nearly 4,000 mothers and children, a 40-fold increase in the use of detention on immigrant families.  The day-to-day operations of the jail will be handled by Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison company.

To put the current numbers of unaccompanied minors into perspective, an estimated 60,000 children arrived in FY14; approximately 25,000 arrived in FY13, some 14,000 in FY12, and an average of less than 7,000 a year since 2003. Of the 60,000 unaccompanied minors who entered in FY14, many were placed with family members but those who came with their mothers are generally detained.

Housing women and children in family detention centers is part of a larger plan by President Obama and his Cabinet to respond quickly to the humanitarian crisis at the border. At its peak in June, nearly 26,000 unaccompanied minors and single women with children were caught at the border; most surrendered to Border Patrol agents.

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