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Family Detention

Our immigration system has problems. Right now, the big issue is our southern border with Mexico. We have an unprecedented number of people fleeing danger in their own Central American countries who are coming here to apply for asylum. Unfortunately, many women and children are showing up at our border and, for their trouble, they are being placed in family detention centers.

What is family detention? According to Detention Watch Network, “Family detention is the inhumane and unjust policy of jailing immigrant mothers with their children – including babies. Upon arrival in the U.S., families are locked up in remote and punitive detention centers, with little access to legal and social services, often experiencing widespread human and civil rights violations.”

The United States has been engaged in family detention since the 1980’s when Cuban and Haitian immigrants flowed into Florida. Since that time, detention has grown to the current level of 400,000 beds.

During the Trump administration, not only has family detention increased, but the government has pursued a policy of family separation in which children are separated from their parents and housed in a different facility. Despite a policy that should have rolled back family separation, it continues to occur on the southern border.

Trump administration officials have said that the family detention centers are like “summer camps”. Those who visit the camps would dispute the claim.

More importantly, family detention (and family separation) is very traumatic to children. Two physicians became whistleblowers last year after their reports were not acted upon. The physicians noted that keeping children in a converted jail was inherently unsafe with finger and hand injuries common. The lack of appropriate medical care led to children getting inappropriate doses of vaccines and one child to get alarmingly ill from a diarrheal disease before medical action was taken.

That’s not all, though. The facilities are not using “trauma-informed care”, the gold standard. There aren’t enough interpreters. There aren’t enough medical staff. And, mostly, detention is, in and of itself, traumatizing.

These families should never have been placed in detention which is, essentially, a prison. They have done nothing wrong. All they have done is to legally apply for asylum. Detention is not the least restrictive placement for them.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration is requesting more beds for family detention. They have no intention to try to find the least restrictive environment for these refugees as they wait for their asylum hearings.

Family detention and family separation are human rights abuses. No one who comes to our borders to legally request asylum deserves to be put in jail, which is what detention is. And, certainly, children don’t deserve to be separated from their parents.

What we have done to this generation of children is appalling. As Christians, we need to stand up and say, “Enough is enough!” This is not how we treat the stranger among us! They may not all be allowed to stay in the US, depending on their status, but while they are here, we must not add to their trauma. Let’s act like the civilized nation we think we are.


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