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Senate Democrats Send DHS Secretary Letter Urging End To Family Detention

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Today, Senate Democrats sent a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson urging him to “end the practice of presumptive detention of families.”

“While these mothers and children wait their turn before an immigration judge, there are many alternatives to detention that are more humane, cost-efficient, and will keep families together,” the letter states.

“We are deeply concerned by the growing evidence that detention of young children, particularly those who have experienced significant trauma, is detrimental to their development and physical and mental health. That evidence has been reinforced by specific examples of individual children in these detention facilities struggling to eat or sleep, and exhibiting signs of serious depression.”

“We appreciate all that you have done to improve conditions at family detention facilities, however we do not believe there is any system of mass family detention that will work or is consistent with our moral values and historic commitment to provide safe and humane refuge to those fleeing persecution.”

The letter to Secretary Johnson was signed by 33 Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Harry Reid, Judiciary Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy, and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin.

As immigration reporter Esther Lee noted in a recent piece, the call to end family detention has gained considerable traction over the past few months:

The United States Conference of Catholics Bishops released a report and policy recommendations in mid-May, urging Congress to “build a system that affords due process protections, honors human dignity and minimizes the use of detentions.”

The New York Times editorial board pointed out earlier this month that immigrants are “locked up merely because the government wants to make sure they show up in immigration court.” And The Seattle Times editorial board also called on lawmakers to create new oversight and standards for immigration detention centers. Even Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley have both picked up the issue over the past few weeks, stating their opposition to keeping migrant families in detention.

Additionally, last week 136 House Democrats, spearheaded by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Lucille Roybal-Allard, and Luis Gutiérrez, also sent Secretary Johnson a letter asking him to end the administration’s family detention policy.

Elise Foley notes that while “the number of families being apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped…the government is still planning to increase its family detention capacity substantially.”

In their letter, Senate Democrats raise serious alarms about the continued practice of detaining parents and their young children.

“We urge you to end the practice of presumptive detention of families and return to the policy of utilizing detention only as a last resort, when there is a serious public safety or flight risk that cannot be mitigated by alternatives to detention.”

The letter from 33 Senate Democrats to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson on family detention is available to read here.