Biden Administration Must Not Repeat the Evil of Jailing Families

The following statement can be attributed to Wendy Cervantes, Director of Immigration and Immigrant Families at the Center for Law and Social Policy.

CLASP is alarmed by recent reports that the Biden Administration is considering reinstating the use of family detention. When asked about these reports Secretary Mayorkas stated, “No decision has been made with respect to the detention of families, all options on the table. Great, good, bad, terrible, let us discuss them, and many will be left on the cutting-room floor.”

We strongly believe that jailing children and families is a terrible option that should never be considered. There is simply no appropriate amount of time to jail a child. The dire consequences of family detention are already known, with extensive research showing that not only is the practice extremely costly and ineffective in deterring future migration, but that it is deeply harmful to the health and safety of children and families, in particular for infants and toddlers. Under the Obama-Biden Administration, an ICE advisory committee in 2016  found that “DHS’s immigration enforcement practices should operationalize the presumption that detention is generally neither appropriate nor necessary for families–and that detention or the separation of families for purposes of immigration enforcement or management are never in the best interest of children.” 

When the first family detention centers opened up in 2014, I witnessed firsthand the desperation of mothers and their young children, most under the age of 5, being held in these facilities. I will never forget their voices calling out “help us!”  as I passed by.  I recall the cafeteria rooms with highchairs lined up against the wall, children picking up trash for entertainment. Even as so-called  “more child-friendly” facilities were later built, the reports of unsanitary conditions and inadequate health care remained, including the first death of a child–2-year-old Mariee Juárez– in government custody due to medical neglect. There is simply no way to safely or humanely  lock up families. 

We urge President Biden to uphold his promise and reject the idea that punishing children and families is the only option for fixing our immigration system. There are more humane and effective options, like the previous Family Case Management program and the current Case Management Program, which keep families together and in the community while they await the outcome of their immigration case. We urge the Administration to focus on scaling up these types of  programs rather than reviving failed and dangerous policies.  Family detention along with other policies that put lives at risk and weaken our asylum system, like Title 42 and the proposed asylum ban, are not the answer. We can and must do better.