Congressional Immigration Leaders and Children Call for Ending Family Detention as ‘A Wish for the Holidays’

Capitol Hill Press Conference Exhibited Children’s Letters to Families in ICE Custody

Washington, DC –(ENEWSPF)–December 10, 2015.  Yesterday, the Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform and We Belong Together were joined by children at a Capitol Hill press conference to call for an end to America’s family detention system.  Nine members of Congress spoke out about the need to end family detention, including Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), chair of the Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform; Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (CA-19); Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (IL-04); Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01); Congresswoman Grace Meng (NY-06); Congresswoman Norma Torres (CA-35); Congresswoman Linda Sánchez (CA-38); Congresswoman Dina Titus (NV-01); and Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27).

The press conference also featured Caritza and Alejandro, a mother and her five-year-old son who were previously held at the Dilley detention facility in Texas.  They described the reasons for fleeing their home country and their experience in detention.  In addition, the event displayed enlargements of handwritten letters that elementary school-aged children have written for delivery to children who will spend this holiday season inside detention facilities.  The children’s letters, which are part of We Belong Together’s “A Wish for the Holidays” letter-writing campaign, express the children’s holiday wish that the families in detention be released.  Noe, Fiorella, and Yazareth, children who wrote letters to families in detention, also appeared at the press conference, and Noe and Fiorella read their letters aloud.  Other speakers included Sameera Hafiz, policy director at We Belong Together, and Wendy Cervantes, vice president of immigration and child rights at First Focus, a children’s advocacy organization.

“While some changes have been made to improve conditions at these centers and reduce the length of detention, the fact is they remain jail-like settings,” said Congresswoman Roybal-Allard.  “Detention of children is cruel and misguided, and the suffering and negative impact on these young developing minds is unacceptable.  I echo the wish of the children here today to call for an end to family detention.  We are a country of laws and a country of compassion.  And it is that compassion that must be reflected in how we treat immigrant women and children who have sacrificed so much to escape violence and abuse.  I will continue to fight with my colleagues for accountability in detention and for swift processing of families through Immigration and Customs Enforcement so these women and children can be placed in less restrictive settings as they await the adjudication of their cases.”

“We have made some progress over the past couple of years, but we have not achieved our goal of stopping the practice of holding moms and kids in detention when there are more efficient, cost-effective, and humane ways to handle them,” said Congressman Gutiérrez.  “People seeking asylum, fleeing violence in Central America or fleeing systematic oppression anywhere in the world, we are fighting for the government to treat families and moms and children with respect, to use tax-money as efficiently as possible, and to end the practice of family detention.”

“It’s shameful that children will be spending the holidays in detention centers across the United States.  I urge us all to remember the harrowing journey many took to come here seeking safety and pray that we stop tearing families apart,” said Congresswoman DelBene.  “This is just one facet of our deeply flawed and broken immigration system that Congress has a moral obligation to address.”

“This is an issue that is close to my heart,” said Congresswoman Meng.  “I represent parts of Queens, NY and more than half of my constituents are foreign-born.  I’ve had parents come and talk to me about the difficulties of separation when their kids are in other countries.  I’ve had children whose parents are held in detention speak of their anguish over their fear of never seeing their loved ones again.  Families belong together.  We are here today because we want the release of mothers and their children from detention facilities.  Our wish for the Holidays is for the Administration to release mothers and children from detention.  It is the right thing to do.”

“As a mother and as an immigrant who came to this country as a child, I join my colleagues in urging the administration to put an end to family detention,” said Congresswoman Torres.  “We have more cost-effective and humane tools at our disposal to release families while ensuring they continue through the legal process.  It’s time to put an end to family detention for good.”

“I cannot accept that this country puts innocent women and children into detention facilities that resemble the cruelty of Japanese incarceration,” said Congresswoman Chu.  “And worse, as a psychologist, I know that any amount of time in detention risks harming children’s development and retraumatizing women fleeing violence.  I was so moved to hear these children’s stories today and will not forget their pleas as we continue our fight to end family detention once and for all.”

“There are so many organizations that are fighting to close these detention centers and I just ask God that they achieve that,” said Caritza, the mother detained with her five-year-old son at Dilley.  “The kids hate to be locked up. My son would ask, ‘When can we leave? When can we leave?’”

“The bottom line is that we know family detention is a dangerous policy that directly harms children.  The research consistently shows that children who are detained even for a short period of time face risks to their overall development, including  long-term psychological trauma and declining health,” said Ms. Cervantes.  “No child should have to spend the holidays behind bars, and we urge the Administration to grant the wish of every child in who wrote a letter as part of this campaign by ending family detention once and for all.”

“I remain concerned about the troublesome confinement conditions, the breaches of due process and the serious physical and mental health costs imposed on women and their children during their time in these family detention centers.  These practices are simply inconsistent with our nation’s values and our laws,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13). “As we work to end these detentions, Congress must go even further.  We must pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken system that cruelly tears families apart.”