By Kaitlyn O’Shaughnessy, Women’s Human Rights Thematic Specialist, Amnesty International USA
The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services have proposed a ruleto circumvent the 1997 Flores agreement, which protects immigrant children from prolonged detention by limiting detention of children to 20 days. The rule is open for public comment until November 6, 2018.
The proposed rule comes in the wake of the family separation fiasco, and before all separated children have been reunited with their parents. The Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General (DHS OIG) recently released a scathing report detailing the failure of the government’s family separation policy and DHS’ inability to reunite families, leaving some children alone in government detention centers even today. As of October 18, nearly250children remained separated from their parents. The OIG report highlights DHS’ complete disregard for the human rights and dignity of immigrant children. Given this information, we must fight harder than ever against DHS’ proposal to detain children for prolonged periods of time.
It is never appropriate to detain children and families. DHS has an appalling track record of not complying with its own policies to protect children, and has clearly demonstrated its lack of commitment to international human rights standards. For example, the DHS OIG report found that Border Patrol detained children for extended periods in facilities intended only for short term detention. The report indicates 237 out of 855 unaccompanied alien children (28 percent) apprehended by Border Patrol between ports of entry were detained in short-term detention centers for more than the legally allowed 72 hours. One unaccompanied child remained in custody in such a facility for 12 days. DHS cannot be given further leeway to flout human rights standards. We must speak out to protect migrant children.
The DHS OIG further found that DHS, CBP, ICE and Health and Human Service (HHS) could not keep track of the children and families they separated and detained. That is, DHS had no records of where each child was, where the parent was, or how the family could be reunited. On June 23, 2018, DHS announced that DHS and HHS had “a central database” containing location information for separated parents and minors that both departments could access and update. However, OIG found no evidence that such a database exists, indicating that DHS publicly lied about this database. DHS has since acknowledged there is no direct interface between its information and ICE or HHS information. When OIG asked ICE for information about the current location of separated children, ICE did not possess that information, either, and had to request it from another agency. When OIG asked for a list of every non-citizen child separated from an adult since April 2018, DHS did not possess that information nor, it seems, did any other agency have that data readily available. It took many weeks for DHS to furnish the data. Furthermore, the OIG reports “the data DHS eventually supplied was incomplete and inconsistent, raising questions about its reliability.”
DHS, ICE, CBP, and HHS have proven they cannot be trusted with children’s safety and wellbeing. These agencies detained children for longer than the legally allowable amount of time and kept no records of parents or children. They had no plan for reuniting families. Some separated children remain detained without their parents. Now, DHS wants to circumvent the Flores agreement so it can detain children for even longer. We say no. Speak out against DHS’ proposed new rule to detain children longer.
Until tomorrow, Tuesday, November 6, the government must accept comments from the public on its proposal to indefinitely detain kids. DHS must read every comment it receives before making a final decision. If we flood the government with comments, they have to read them — all of them. That means the more comments we submit, the more we make the Trump administration listen to us.
Right now, this is the most important vehicle of resistance to this administration’s attempts to jail kids and parents seeking safety in this country. Amnesty International is joining dozens of organizations in trying to generate as many public comments — with the goal of at least 50,000 from AIUSA alone. That’s 50,000 voices speaking out for humanity and human rights.
The more unique the comment, the more effective it will be.Make sure to personalize your comment to reflect your values, as unique comments are exponentially more valuable and will have the greatest impact for children and families unsure of their futures in detention.