The Least of These

Recommendations from the Women’s Refugee Commission Report

Recommendations from the Women’s Refugee Commission Report

In February 2007, the Women’s Refugee Commission and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service co-authored a report called LOCKING UP FAMILY VALUES: The Detention of Immigrant Families.  The following information is drawn from that report.

The report made the following six recommendations regarding the closure of Hutto and the transformation of the U.S. government’s policies concerning families involved in immigration procedures:

Recommendation One

• Discontinue the detention of families in penal institutions.

• Close the T. Don Hutto Residential Center. (ICE)

• Begin transitioning to the use of nonpenal, homelike facilities for families not eligible for release on parole or bond or to alternatives to detention. (ICE)

Recommendation Two

• Institutionalize a preference for release for all families who can establish identity and community ties and who do not pose a security risk.

•  Complete release as soon as possible but no later than three weeks after apprehension. (ICE or ORR)

• Codify parole criteria to ensure that asylum seekers who do not present a flight risk or pose a threat to the community are released from detention. (ICE)

• Authority to parole asylum seekers should be shifted to an objective decision-making body, such as the asylum corps or the Executive Office for Immigration Review. (ICE, CIS and EOIR)

•  Where at least one member of the family has established credible fear or is applying for a valid form of relief, release the family or transfer them into an alternatives program or a nonpenal, homelike environment. (ICE)

• Grant temporary work authorization to asylum seekers whose cases are pending and who have been released into the community. (CIS and ICE)

•  Liberalize parole criteria for families in expedited removal proceedings. (ICE and Congress)

• Make bonds for families accessible and not excessive. Children detained as part of a family unit should not be assigned an individual bond. (EOIR)

Recommendation Three

• Implement alternatives to detention for families not eligible for parole or release.

• Implement alternatives to detention as soon as possible but not later than three weeks after apprehension. (ICE or ORR)

• Expeditiously develop pre-hearing release programs or alternatives to detention for families nationwide, such as supervised release and shelter care under the auspices of nonprofit social service agencies with expertise in meeting the needs of refugee families. (ICE and NGOs)

• Individuals in expedited removal proceedings should be eligible for alternatives to detention such as the Intensive Supervised Appearance Program. Such programs should be considered to be a form of custody. (ICE)

• Grant temporary work authorization to asylum seekers whose cases are pending and who have been released into alternative programs. (CIS and ICE)

Recommendation Four

• Families not eligible for parole or release into the community or alternative programs should be housed in appropriate nonpenal, homelike facilities.

• Transfer responsibility for custody of families in immigration proceedings to ORR, which is better equipped to address the special needs of refugee families. (Congress)

• Homelike facilities should permit families to share the same living space and enable parents to prepare food for and care for their children. (ICE or ORR)

• Separation of families who remain in homelike detention should never be used as a form of punishment. However, short-term voluntary separation within the facility should be permitted for purposes such as educational activities, recreation activities, medical examinations, counseling sessions and meetings with legal counsel. (ICE or ORR)

• Homelike facilities should employ a daily release model of family detention similar to that reportedly used in Australia, where parents and children are permitted to leave the facility during the day. Pending asylum applicants detained in homelike facilities should be granted temporary work authorization to enable them to work in the surrounding community. (CIS and ICE or ORR)

• All facilities used for the detention of families should be licensed by appropriate regulatory bodies. Local, state and national governments that do not yet have standards should develop standards to ensure safety and dignity of children and families in detention and to prevent situations where services and safety are compromised by licensing requirements. In addition, because parents do not have control over conditions of confinement, regulatory bodies should err on the side of mandating facility compliance with all relevant standards for housing children. Internal procedures should provide adequate protection for children and meet their ongoing educational, physical and psychosocial development needs. (ICE or ORR, local government)

• Develop and codify family detention standards that take into account the needs of families, parental roles and the particular needs of children. Standards should ensure protection and continued educational, physical and psychosocial development of children throughout the period of detention. (ICE or ORR)

• Homelike family detention facilities should be subject to oversight and inspection by an independent authority. (ICE or ORR)

• Homelike detention facilities should take care in hiring staff who have employment experience and expertise with child welfare, family protection or family preservation, and not only with the criminal or juvenile justice systems. In addition staff should receive continued specialized training in the unique physical and psychological needs of immigrant families. All staff training should be based upon a child and family welfare model and not a criminal or juvenile justice model. (ICE or ORR)

• Visitation policies in homelike facilities should permit contact visits. Noncriminal families should not be subject to strip searches after visits. (ICE or ORR)

• Any pending asylum applicant who cannot be released from detention should be permitted to participate in a work release program. (CIS and ICE)

Recommendation Five

• Children released from ORR custody should not be redetained with their parents upon family reunification.

• This practice creates a conflict with the predisposition for release of unaccompanied minors under the Flores settlement by discouraging parents from reuniting with their children. (ICE)

Recommendation Six

• Enhanced public-private partnerships should be employed to provide Legal Orientation Programs, including legal information and pro bono legal access, for all detained families, including those in expedited removal proceedings.

• Assure access to legal orientation as soon as possible and no later than one week after being detained. (ICE or ORR, and EOIR)

• Expand the Legal Orientation Program or a similar model to all family detention sites. Presentations should include information on claims involving domestic violence, sexual violence, gang membership and other issues of unique importance to children and families’ eligibility for relief. (ICE or ORR, EOIR and NGOs)

• Children whose families are in immigration proceedings should be treated as individuals who may be eligible for forms of relief separate from those available to their parents. Public-private partnerships should include the development of information and representation models that facilitate an exploration and pursuit of children’s individual claims. (ICE and NGOs)

• Public-private partnerships such as the CAIR Coalition model should be expanded to provide legal representation for families and individual family members at credible fear interviews. (CIS and NGOs)

• Staff members charged with conducting credible fear interviews should receive appropriate training regarding minimal threshold requirements, particularly regarding domestic violence-based asylum claims. (CIS)