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Old 05-22-2015
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Default Latino Lawmakers Call Immigrant Detention 'Unconscionable'

By Michael Oleaga May 22, 2015 05:00 AM EDT

Latino congressional lawmakers have again called for the end of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) immigrant family detention program.

Members, including those from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, voiced concerns about the inhumane conditions and harmful impacts of detaining immigrant families, especially those awaiting to make their case in immigration court.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, said U.S. law requires immigrants the right to make their case in immigration court.

"It is immoral to have immigrant mothers and children in jail while waiting for their day in immigration court," Lofgren continued, later adding, "We need to commit to law" but jailing mothers and children is not part of the solution.

"It's important for people around the country to know what's happening to mothers and children in detention facilities," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Congressional Hispanic Caucus' Immigration Task Force co-chair. "We should all be appalled as Americans that those who arrive at our country's borders fleeing violence...are incarcerated.... It is the law of the U.S. to apply for asylum and not be punished."

Gutierrez noted that the notion that the U.S. locked up children with their mothers would not be tolerated in any American city yet it has been applied to immigrants.

As Latin Post reported, the DHS' Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced new enhanced oversights to improve the conditions at its detention centers. Gutierrez thanked the DHS for issuing the improvements, but he referred it as "cosmetic changes."

Gutierrez acknowledged the locations of several detention facilities are miles away from major towns or cities. He said the reason is because "they don't want us to know, they don't want Americans to see."

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and ranking member for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said that for a country that prides itself at valuing women and children, it is "unconscionable" that the U.S. is detaining women and children.

"While it is true DHS is working to improve detention centers, they still remain as jail-like settings," added Roybal-Allard, noting there are less costly and more humane alternatives to detention, such as supervised release.

Roybal-Allard said immigrants seeking asylum are not breaking U.S. laws.

Honduran immigrant Maria Rosa Lopez was detained at the Karnes County Residential Center, a detention facility, for six months with her son. She spoke about being ill and worried for her son's mental well-being. Lopez said when visitors arrived at the Karnes facility, most often times they were not allowed to speak with the detainees. Lopez said the water management was poor, and the detainees did not have enough money to purchase the $1 bottled water.

"We are calling for an end to detention...we are immigrants seeking protection. We are not criminals for trying to seek protection," said Lopez, who was accompanied with a translator.

According to ICE Director Sarah Saldaņa, a new Advisory Committee will be created to advise her and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson about its family detention centers. The committee will comprise of "experts" in the children and family services, mental health, public health and detention management fields. The series of actions also include expanded services to legal counsel and medical care, appoint a senior ICE official to coordinate and review the detention centers' policies, and meetings with stakeholders to discuss concerns about the centers.

"While we routinely review and evaluate our facilities to ensure that we are providing the level of care required by our Family Residential Standards, we understand the unique and sensitive nature of detaining families and we are committed to maintaining the optimal level of care," said Saldaņa in a statement. "The measures ICE is announcing reaffirm that understanding and our commitment to ensuring all individuals in our custody are held and treated in a safe, secure, and humane manner."

During the 2015 fiscal year, so far, 18,919 unaccompanied immigrant children have been apprehended across nine sectors in the southwestern U.S. In comparison to the same fiscal-year period in 2014, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended 36,280 unaccompanied children. When comparing both fiscal years, so far, the CBP noted there has been a 48 percent drop in apprehending unaccompanied undocumented immigrant children.
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