By Joe Guzzardi
May 22, 2015
Judge Dolly Gee, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, is expected to soon rule on whether immigrant mothers and their children should be released from three detention centers, two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania. About 1,000 could be freed immediately unless emergency talks in Washington D.C. between Department of Homeland Security officials and lawyers who represent the families can reach an agreement.
DHS contends that detaining the Central America aliens, some who traveled with their mothers but others who came alone, is a necessary response to last summer’s huge border surge.
Furthermore, DHS says that enforcement sends a strong message that may prevent future large illegal flows. In Central America, it’s widely believed that if migrants can get to the U.S., they’ll be granted asylum or released into the general public, and not be sought for deportation. Detention helps to counter that misconception.
Civil rights lawyers, however, argue that since some of the children have been held for longer than a year and other are less than 12 months old, and that keeping them for prolonged periods violates child protection laws that have been in place since 1997. Pursuant to the 1997 settlement of Flores versus Johnson, children were entitled to be released on bond while their immigration petitions were under consideration, and immigration officials had to treat under-18s in their care “with dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors.”
Serious allegations have been leveled against the Berks County, Pennsylvania detention center that if proven would clearly violate Flores versus Johnson. Among them are that the facility provided poor medical treatment to the detainees, placed a mother and her child in a solitary confinement-like room overnight, and failed to properly care for 43 severely depressed children, ten of whom have confirmed cases of mental illness. An employee charged with using his position as a security guard to have sex with a detained mother was put on administrative leave while his case is being investigated.
Addressing the Berks County charges, an Immigration Customs and Enforcement spokesman refuted the claims and insisted that comprehensive medical care is provided at the center throughout an individual’s stay at the facility which has more than 20 medical staff on hand to give 24-hour care, and the room about which the family complained represented a form of solitary confinement is “only used for medical reasons,” and “never used for disciplinary reasons – the door does not lock.”
Last month, the Berks County mothers wrote to DHS authorities pleading, on the grounds that they aren’t criminals, for their immediate release. If freed, the illegal immigrants would be given a court date to appear to determine whether they should be allowed to stay. But, according to ICE, at least 70 percent fail to show up, and suffer no consequences for their non-appearance.
The best solution to immigrant rights issues is the least likely to come about—strong border enforcement that, in the event of another surge this summer, should include sending Department of Justice lawyers to the border to adjudicate cases immediately. Aliens with valid asylum claims would be admitted; those without verifiable cases would be returned.
Allowing millions of immigrants to enter unlawfully is unfair to Americans who must support them. More important, it’s unjust to the immigrants who have few skills, speak little if any English, and are easily exploitable. In an increasingly high-tech oriented America where the under-educated work for minimum wage or less, most new immigrants will struggle to find their way. Enforcement is more compassionate than open borders.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]