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178 House Democrats In Letter To DHS Secretary Johnson: End Family Detention Now

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Following a federal judge’s ruling that holding mothers and their children in family detention facilities violates a 20-year-old court settlement, 178 House Democrats sent a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson urging him to end the harmful practice.

In the letter, the Democrats say the “strong evidence that such detention is detrimental to mothers and children and is not reflective of our Nation’s values,” and that now “is long past time to end family detention”:

Dear Secretary Johnson:

In May of this year, 136 Members of Congress wrote to you to express serious concern regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s detention of thousands of mothers and children in secure, jail-like facilities.  The purpose of the letter was to alert you to the strong evidence that such detention is detrimental to mothers and children and is not reflective of our Nation’s values.  The detained population is largely comprised of refugees fleeing violence and persecution, many of whom have serious medical and mental health needs that have been inadequately addressed in custody.  You were urged to end the use of family detention.

Last Friday, a federal judge issued a ruling finding that the Department’s family detention practices constitute a material breach of a Court-approved class-wide settlement agreement.  Flores v. Johnson, CV 85-4544 (C.D. Cal. July 24, 2015).  Judge Dolly M. Gee found that the Department’s decision to house children in secure facilities that are not licensed by any State agency to care for dependent children violated the 20-year-old Flores settlement agreement.  The court also rejected the Department’s request to amend that settlement agreement in lieu of remedying the numerous violations.

Earlier this week, House Democrats organized a forum on family detention that featured two formerly-detained mothers, as well as a social worker who worked at the Karnes family detention facility in Texas.

According to the social worker, mothers were turned away by staff “even when they presented serious medical issues. This medical neglect resulted in emergencies where infants and toddlers had to be taken by ambulance or by halo flight to the hospital for emergency surgery.”

One mother who testified at the hearing was detained for over 300 days with her three children, and described being compared to a dog by facility staff and told she would never leave alive.

“It is long past time to end family detention,” states today’s letter from House Democrats to Secretary Johnson. “In light of this recent federal court ruling, we urge you take all necessary and appropriate steps to bring the Department’s practices in line with the settlement agreement and the recent court ruling.”