Dear President Trump and Secretary Kelly:
The White House has issued three Executive Orders that, together, constitute an unlawful assault on immigrants and refugees. Communities of all races, religions, and nationalities stand united in outrage at the Administration’s blatant disregard of our country’s constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process of law and our human rights obligations.
The Executive Orders lay out a dangerous policy agenda that seeks to further militarize our southern border while targeting massive numbers of bona fide asylum seekers and refugees solely on the basis of their national origin or religion. We write today to draw your attention to the ways in which these policies will exacerbate the failings of our country’s already deeply flawed immigration detention system. Our country must not be in the business of the indiscriminate and mass detention of asylum seekers and refugees. Neither our laws nor our most basic shared national values can support it; yet, your policies are moving swiftly toward this end.
We urge you to act now to address the fundamental failings of the immigration detention system. Specifically, we call on you to: 1) end the policy of detaining immigrant families and release children and their parents immediately; and 2) end the mass detention of asylum seekers by implementing rights-respecting release policies.
DHS detains approximately 3,600 children and parents per day in three locations: Karnes, Texas; Dilley, Texas; and Berks, Pennsylvania. The vast majority of these families experienced extreme violence and persecution in Central America and have significant claims for protection.
At the same time, DHS has significantly increased its detention of adult asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution in Central America, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and other regions. Over the last fiscal year, it is likely that the government has detained at least 100,000 asylum seekers.
Successful alternatives to detention exist. Community-based alternatives operated by nonprofit organizations provide support services and effectively ensure compliance with immigration court proceedings. Government estimates show the costs of current alternatives to detention are significantly lower than those of family detention, which costs hundreds of dollars per person per day.
Courageous and compassionate leadership is needed to ensure the safety and protection of all immigrants in detention, including children, families, and asylum seekers. As an immediate first step, we urge you to: 1) end the practice of detaining families and release children and their parents immediately; and 2) end the mass detention of asylum seekers by implementing rights-respecting release policies.