Today, RAICES filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on behalf of several fathers with children — the youngest just five years old — who have been held at Karnes Detention Center between 41 and 58 days with no word from ICE about their release.
These families, all but one of whom remain detained, are held in violation of the Flores settlement agreement, which has been interpreted to allow the Department of Homeland Security to hold children for a maximum of 20 days before they are to be released to a sponsor in the United States.
These detentions are part of a disturbing recent trend in which DHS is holding children in Karnes far longer than the 20 days allowed by Flores. In so doing, both Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement violate the civil rights and liberties of these children and their fathers.
All children in detention, even those detained with their parents, have the same rights under Flores. The Flores agreement states that a child must be released from detention “without unnecessary delay” so long as they do not pose a flight risk or danger, i.e. they must be released within 20 days. Prolonged detention of children, even with their fathers, is a clear violation of Flores.
The effects of detention on the families are horrendous. One father and his 15-year-old son have been detained at Karnes since January 14, 2019. Both have received forms indicating they have credible fears of torture or persecution, but DHS has yet to explain either to them or RAICES why they remain in custody despite positive fear findings.
When speaking about his son, the father says he’s become “sad and desperate” when other families are released from detention. He hasn’t been able to speak to either his mother or sister. He has started eating less and developed indigestion in custody.
Another father was detained with his six-year-old son between January 14 and March 8, 2019, for a total of 41 days. They have been since been separated, and the father is now in Pearsall while his son has been transferred to a children’s shelter in San Antonio.
His son “used to be a very active and friendly boy” but has become “depressed” and “feels the heaviness of this place” in his weeks-long detention. He’s suffered stomach aches, fever, and an allergic rash. He worries his son will have permanent trauma and psychological issues, especially now that they have been separated from each other. “I feel like my head might explode and I’ll suffer an aneurysm,” he said.
Our complaint details several cases like those of these fathers, and there are many, many more cases in Karnes and throughout our immigration system like theirs.
Child detention is universally condemned. The United Nations notes in its Convention on the Rights of the Child that child detention should “used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated even short stints of detention “cause psychological trauma and induce long-term mental health risks for children” and that “there is no evidence indicating that any time in detention is safe for children.” Congress Members have for years called for the end of family detention.
Even DHS whistleblowers have said that the detention of migrant families “poses high risk of harm to children and their families.”
There is no reason to detain these fathers and their children in the first place, and their continued detention is is an egregious violation of rules meant to protect children. These families could easily be released to friends and relatives in the United States, where the fathers could navigate the asylum process and the children could receive adequate care and education. Instead, they are locked up and suffering every day.
We ask DHS to immediately release all of these families, allowing them to continue fighting their cases outside of detention. We also ask that DHS review its practice of detaining families in violation of the Flores agreement and note any changes in department policy regarding the detention of families under Flores. These are not the only families whom DHS has harmed through prolonged detention. We call on the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to investigate all violations of Flores protections at Karnes and we call on Congress to investigate conditions in the Karnes Detention Center.
RAICES is against family detention, period. The practice is abominable and retrograde. The United States is worse off because of it. We hope this complaint begins a serious attempt to end to family detention, once and for all.