Last week, nearly one-third of the U.S. Senators signed onto a letter addressed to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson. The purpose of the letter was to express the Senators’ profound disappointment with the Obama administration’s policy of imprisoning foreign national mothers and children in detention centers. These mothers and children are escaping the violent conditions in Central America.
The Senators’ Letter
In their letter, the Senators informed Secretary Johnson of their opinion that the DHS should only detain mothers and children as a method of last resort, such as when a public safety issue or flight risk is present in a specific case. Instead of detaining all mothers and children across the board, the Senators urge the Secretary to release these foreign nationals until their cases can be heard by an immigration judge.
The Senators’ letter comes merely one week after 136 House Representatives also wrote to Secretary Johnson and expressed the same concerns over the practice of mandatory family detention. These letters from both chambers of Congress signal that President Obama has now found himself at loggerheads with the majority of his party on this hot button immigration issue.
The Administration’s Options
It appears that the House and Senate planned to send these letters at precisely this time because the Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently working with the attorneys who represent the foreign national children, and it is debating the future of the family detention policies and working on alternative plans and policies for enforcement. Notably, last month a federal judge ruled that the detention of foreign national mothers and children may violate the Flores v. Reno settlement agreement. This agreement was reached in 1997, and its purpose is to govern the safe housing and care provided to migrant children while they await immigration processing.
The DOJ’s deadline to report the results of its deliberations to the court is now June 19, 2015 – a mere two weeks away. If the DOL and the attorneys for the detained foreign national children cannot come to an agreement, the court may issue its own final ruling that could have widespread and groundbreaking implications for the Obama administration’s detention policies.
The Statistics on Family Detention
Since last summer, which experienced a startling increase in the amount of unaccompanied foreign national children who fled to the U.S. seeking asylum, family detention capacities in this country have grown exponentially – from less than 100 beds to nearly 4,000 by 2016.
Since this upsurge, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been diligently working to end the practice of family detention except in the rarest of circumstances. The ACLU brought a class action lawsuit against the DHS challenging its detention policies, but the case continues to linger in the federal courts.
It is very encouraging that both chambers of Congress have made family detention an important issue and have brought it to the forefront of the President’s mind. Hopefully, the President will recognize that the current policy must change and will act quickly to do so. Continue to check back with our blog for the most up to date news on all immigration-related issues.
More Blog Posts
The Government’s War on H-1Bs, ImmigRantings, October 11, 2012
Obama Signs Immigration Executive Order, ImmigRantings, June 15, 2012
Problems with the H-1B visa: From Work Horse to Show Pony, ImmigRantings, February 13, 2012