In the past, the family detention centers created by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) received harsh criticism for their treatment of women and children. The recent addition of new family detention centers to deal with the increased numbers of families and children apprehended at the border, has similarly met with backlash. A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups claims of lack of due process intended to fast-track deportation of women and children without a meaningful opportunity to plead their case to stay in the United States.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of ten immigrants, including three minors, currently being held at a family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. The suit alleges lack of due process to such an extent that the government has created what they describe as a “deportation mill,” to send women and children back to their home countries without a meaningful opportunity to present their claims. Upon deportation, many of them will face the same violence and serious harm which forced them to flee to the U.S. seeking relief.
The suit claims the women and children have the right to apply for asylum and assistance of counsel, but instead immigration officials are restricting communication between the immigrants and their attorney. Government officials are coercing women and children to sign away their rights, resulting in immediate deportation, without the opportunity for an asylum hearing to plead their case.
In an op-ed, Barbara Hines, Law Professor and Co-Director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas related the history of poor treatment at DHS family detention center. In 2006, she found deplorable conditions at the T. Don Hutto detention center near Austin, Texas. In the former prison, families and children were confined to cells, dressed in prison clothes, and children were refused education and medical care. A lawsuit challenging the conditions led to its closing in 2009.
Hines argues that DHS has not learned from the past, and that similar complaints are coming from Artesia and the newly opened Karnes City, Texas family detention center. DHS has implemented a policy of no release during proceedings, which may prevent detainees from being reunited with their families, and result in longer stays in detention.
At the Artesia, New Mexico center, it was recently reported that a U.S. citizen 11-year-old child, was detained for over a month before he was finally released to be reunited with family. Additionally, the Karnes City detention center was at the center of further controversy, after a seven-year-old girl needing treatment for a brain tumor was held without relief for weeks. It was only after outcry from their lawyer, doctors, and local advocacy groups that she was released.
Advocates hope the lawsuit will stop the expedited deportations of the immigrant women and children. Nearly 300 women and children have already been deported from the two facilities. Most have been sent back to Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras. In addition to the claims of lack of due process, the detention centers have also been cited by the DHS inspector general for having inadequate amounts of food, inconsistent temperatures and unsanitary conditions.
Without commenting on pending litigation, the DHS reports that the government's response has been both humane and lawful. Yet these cases highlight the problems facing the government when speeding up the deportation process to deal with recent influx of new immigrant women and children from Central America.
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