Trump administration seeks to expand immigrant family detention

Dozens of women and their children, many fleeing poverty and violence in Honduras, Guatamala and El Salvador, arrive at a bus station following release from Customs and Border Protection on June 22, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 23 June 2018
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Trump administration seeks to expand immigrant family detention

  • The proposed expansion comes days after a public outcry moved the administration to cease the practice of separating children from their migrant parents on the border
  • More than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents since Homeland Security announced a plan in April to prosecute all immigrants caught on the border

SANTA ANA, Calif: The Trump administration is calling for the expanded use of family detention for immigrant parents and children who are stopped along the US-Mexico border, a move decried by advocates as a cruel and ineffective attempt to deter families from coming to the United States.
Immigration authorities on Friday issued a notice that they may seek up to 15,000 beds to detain families. The Justice Department has also asked a federal court in California to allow children to be detained longer and in facilities that don’t require state licensing while they await immigration court proceedings.
“The current situation is untenable,” August Flentje, special counsel to the assistant attorney general, wrote in court filings seeking to change a longstanding court settlement that governs the detention of immigrant children. The more constrained the Homeland Security Department is in detaining families together during immigration proceedings, “the more likely it is that families will attempt illegal border crossing.”
The proposed expansion comes days after a public outcry moved the administration to cease the practice of separating children from their migrant parents on the border. More than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents since Homeland Security announced a plan in April to prosecute all immigrants caught on the border.
In all, about 9,000 immigrants traveling in family groups have been caught on the border in each of the last three months, according to federal authorities.
Immigrant advocates contend detention is no place for children and insist there are other alternatives to ensure they and their parents attend immigration court hearings, such as ankle bracelets or community-based programs. The federal court ruled several years ago that children must be released as quickly as possible from family detention.
“It is definitely not a solution under any circumstances,” said Manoj Govindaiah, director of family detention services at the RAICES advocacy group in Texas. “At no point should a child be incarcerated, and children need to be with their parents.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement currently has three family detention facilities — a 100-bed center opened in Pennsylvania in 2001 and two much larger facilities opened in Texas in 2014. Only the Pennsylvania facility can house men, and all of the detainees at the Texas centers are women with children.
In Dilley, Texas, a facility was built on a remote site that was once an old oil workers’ encampment. It includes collections of cottages built around playgrounds. The other Texas center, in Karnes City, is ringed by 15-foot fences and has security cameras monitoring movements. It also offers bilingual children’s books in the library, classes, TVs and an artificial turf soccer field.
Inside the Karnes City center, there are five or six beds to a room typically shared by a couple of families. Cinderblock walls are painted pastel colors, said Govindaiah, who added that the facilities are run by private prison operators, not humanitarian organizations, as is the case with shelters for unaccompanied immigrant children.
Currently, most families spend up to a few weeks in the facilities and are released once they pass an initial asylum screening. They are then given a date to appear before an immigration judge in the cities where they are headed to see if they qualify to stay in the country legally or will face deportation.
Those who do not pass initial screenings can seek additional review in a video conference with a judge, a process that lasts about six weeks.
But that’s much shorter than the six months or a year many families were being held several years ago when the Obama administration began detaining mothers and children in a bid to stem a surge in arrivals on the border, Govindaiah said.
At the time, many were being held until their immigration cases — not just the initial screenings — were resolved.
Advocates then asked the federal court to enforce a decades-old settlement over the detention of immigrant children, and a judge ruled the children should be released as quickly as possible.
The settlement is seen by advocates as a way to ensure children are placed in age-appropriate facilities and for no longer than necessary. State licensing adds another layer of oversight.
“You will have children in facilities that are entirely inappropriate for children and are not meeting child welfare standards,” said Michelle Brane, director of the migrant rights and justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “They are trying to circumvent child welfare standards.”
Brane said there is a viable alternative: supervised release to communities around the country. The federal Family Case Management Program — terminated under the Trump administration — compiled a perfect record of attendance by migrants at court hearings, and a 99 percent appearance record at immigration check-ins, according to a 2017 report by the Homeland Security inspector general.
Just 2 percent of participants — 23 out of 954 — were reported as absconders.
In Friday’s notice, ICE said the family detention beds should be in state-licensed facilities and allow freedom of movement for detainees, and should preferably be located in states along the southwest border.
In addition to providing private showers and educational field trips for children, the centers should appear “child-friendly rather than penal in nature,” the agency said.


US women detained for speaking Spanish sue border agency

In this Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, photo provided by the ACLU of Montana, Martha Hernandez, left, and Ana Suda pose in front of a convenience store in Havre, Mont., where they say they were detained by a U.S Border Patrol agent for speaking Spanish last year. (AP)
Updated 53 min 55 sec ago
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US women detained for speaking Spanish sue border agency

  • The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed suit against US Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the women, who live in Havre

LOS ANGELES: Two US women detained by a border patrol agent in the state of Montana after he heard them speaking Spanish in a grocery store have sued the country’s border protection agency.
Video of the incident — which took place last May in the small town of Havre — showed Agent Paul O’Neal tell Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez that he had asked to see their identification as it was unusual to hear Spanish speakers in the state, which borders Canada.
“It has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominately English speaking,” he said.
“It’s not illegal, it’s just very unheard of up here,” he told the women.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed suit against US Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the women, who live in Havre.
Suda and Hernandez say in the lawsuit that O’Neal detained them for 40 minutes.
California native Hernandez and Suda, who was born in Texas, said they were standing in line to buy milk and eggs when the agent — who was standing behind them — commented on Hernandez’s accent, and asked the women where they were born.
“I asked, ‘Are you serious’?” Suda said, according to the lawsuit. “Agent O’Neal responded that he was ‘dead serious’.”
The two women say they were then asked to show identification and questioned outside the store, before eventually being released.
“The incident itself is part of a broader pattern that we’ve seen of abusive tactics by border patrol which has gotten worse since the Trump administration, which has left border patrol officers feeling emboldened to take actions like this,” Cody Wofsy, an attorney with the ACLU, told AFP.
“This has been devastating for (Suda and Hernandez),” he added.
“Havre is a small town, they felt ostracized and humiliated and made to feel unwelcome in their own town and in their own country.”
He noted the United States has no official language, with Spanish by far the most common language spoken after English.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman declined to comment on the case.
“As a matter of policy, US Customs and Border Protection does not comment on pending litigation,” he told AFP in a statement. “However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.”