Thursday, February 22, 2007

Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families

Groundbreaking report finds significant problems with U.S. treatment of immigrant families in detention.
Report Release Feb. 22, 9:30am.National Press Club.

Washington, DC, February 22, 2007—Refugee advocates found prison-like conditions at the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) facilities that house immigrant families, including asylum seekers, who are in immigration proceedings. The Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) describe their findings in a report released today, Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families, which also lays out steps that DHS can take immediately to ensure that families in U.S. detention are treated humanely.

Here is the full report in pdf: Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families

“As a country that supports family values, we should not be treating immigrant families who have not committed a crime like criminals, particularly children,” said LIRS President Ralston H. Deffenbaugh.

The Women’s Commission and LIRS visited the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas and the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility in Pennsylvania and talked with detained families as well as former detainees and ICE officials. The delegation found families, many with young children, detained in harsh conditions, for days, months and sometimes years. These families are held in penal settings where residents are deprived of the right to live as a family unit, denied adequate medical and mental health care, and face overly harsh disciplinary tactics.

“Every woman we talked to in these facilities cried,” said Michelle BranĂ©, Director, Detention and Asylum at the Women’s Commission. “Many of the children were clearly sad and depressed. Some feared separation from their parents, a common threat used to ensure that children behaved according to facility rules. Alternatives exist that are not punitive and that keep families together while also addressing the enforcement concerns of the government. ”

The detention of families expanded dramatically in 2006 with the opening of a family facility in Texas, and represents a major shift in the U.S. government’s treatment of families in immigration proceedings. LIRS and the Women’s Commission felt it was vital to examine the implications of this expanding penal approach to family detention in order to inform the development of policy and practice that serves the best interests of children and families.

The report recommends practical and viable alternatives to this criminal model as well as recommendations for the development of standards.


For more information, please contact Megan McKenna, Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children,
347. 414. 1998, or Cassandra Champion, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, 410. 230.2791.
The report will be available on our websites on Feb. 22: and

© Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, 2003-04
The Women's Commission is an independent affiliate of the International Rescue Committee
122 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10168. • Tel. (212) 551-3000 •

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