On Friday, a federal court temporarily halted the Obama administration’s policy of detaining migrant mothers with children seeking asylum in the United States.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit in December alleging that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) locked up women with children who were seeking asylum under their new “no release” policy, often in prison-like conditions for months at a time. The policy was adopted as part of the Obama administration’s “aggressive deterrence strategy” in response to the influx of Latin American migrants who crossed the southern border last year, as a way to deter future migrants from making the trek. The ACLU stated that in years past, detainees who were able to express “credible fear” that they would be persecuted in their homelands were released on bond or on their own recognizance.
Advocates have heavily criticized family detention facilities in Artesia, New Mexico and Karnes, Texas for its treatment of detainees, including children who slept in freezing “ice-box” conditions, women who never received the opportunity to get legal representation, and attorneys who weren’t allowed to talk with their clients. Artesia shut down in November 2014, though another family detention center in Dilley, Texas soon opened up afterwards.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote in his decision, “The evidence that they [the ACLU] present suggests that a large number of asylum-seeking families from Central America are currently being detained as a result of DHS’s deterrence policy. Such detention harms putative class members in myriad ways, and as various mental health experts have testified, it is particularly harmful to minor children.”
A 2006 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that mandatory detention contributed to “ongoing PTSD, depression and mental health-related disability. Longer detention was associated with more severe mental disturbance, an effect that persisted for an average of 3 years after release.” According to The Advocate, other reports “suggest that prolonged periods of solitary confinement have the potential to inflict lasting psychological damage, an increased likelihood of future suicide attempts, depression, insomnia, and hallucinations.”
In the 2014 fiscal year, 68,541 unaccompanied minor children and 68,445 “family units” such as women accompanied by children were apprehended by immigration officials along the southern border.
A Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) analysis released Wednesday found that immigration judges ordered deportation for about 98.5 percent of women with children without legal representation even after they had passed their “credible fear” interviews.