Congresswoman Diana DeGette

Representing the First District of Colorado
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DeGette Calls on Obama Administration to End Family Detention

May 27, 2015
Press Release

DeGette Calls on Obama Administration to End Family Detention

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette called on Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to end the Obama Administration’s policy of detaining mothers and children involved in deportation proceedings in jail-like facilities. Rep. DeGette and 135 of her colleagues raised issues ranging from excessive confinement, delays in due process, developmental problems for children, and serious medical concerns in a letter to Secretary Johnson.

“We must prioritize the health and well-being of mothers and children while also prioritizing our enforcement objectives,” wrote Rep. DeGette and her colleagues. “Detaining mothers and children in jail-like settings is not the answer. We have an opportunity to do the right thing and are confident that DHS has the capacity to honor our Nation’s longstanding commitment both to the protection and well-being of refugee families and to law enforcement and public safety.”

Detention policies by the Department of Homeland Security have come under increasing scrutiny, and the letter by Rep. DeGette and her colleagues detailed some of the most disturbing problems affecting some of the most vulnerable individuals being held by the department. DeGette has also called for an end to the department’s policy to set a number of beds to always be occupied in detention facilities, which creates an incentive to detain individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety, and urged the department to end the use of immigration detainers.

The full text of the letter is available below and at this link.


May 27, 2015

Secretary Jeh Johnson
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretary Johnson:

We are troubled by the Department of Homeland Security’s continued detention of mothers and children in secure, jail-like facilities. For nearly one year we have been closely following the troublesome conditions of confinement, due process issues, and serious developmental and medical concerns of those being detained. Many of us have raised these matters in writing and continue to bring concerns to DHS through individual case examples and systemic complaints. We believe your Department has heard many of our concerns but has not fully grasped the serious harm being inflicted upon mothers and children in custody. We believe the only solution to this problem is to end the use of family detention.

The recent announcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on family detention does not acknowledge that even detention for a brief period of time, especially in a secure setting, is detrimental to child development. Based upon his 39 years of clinical experience and interviews with families at the Karnes Residential Center, the Dean of Social Work at the University of Texas, Dr. Luis Zayas, found that the children at Karnes are “facing some of the most adverse childhood conditions of any children I have ever interviewed or evaluated.”[1] In his affidavit, Dean Zayas concluded that “[d]etention has had serious and long-lasting impacts on the psychological health and well-being” of the families at Karnes and that these impacts were evident in families who were detained for as little as two weeks.

We believe it is undeniable that detention in a secure facility is detrimental to mothers and
children and is not reflective of our values as a Nation. Children require special protections and should not be placed in jail-like settings.

We are particularly troubled by the current practice of family detention because the detained population is largely comprised of refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries. We have heard horrific stories of sexual assault, intense physical violence, kidnapping, and sex trafficking. These stories come not only from adult mothers, but also from young children who have been victims of such abuse. Detaining children who have already been victims of abuse exacerbates past trauma and raises unique and serious problems.

DHS has repeatedly used deterrence as a justification for the existence of family detention, but this theory has not been substantiated with compelling evidence. Moreover, a federal court in the District of Columbia rejected this argument and found that DHS cannot detain asylum-seeking mothers and children from Central America for the purpose of deterring other migrants from entering the country.[2] We agree and believe that the hypothetical recurrence of a future refugee flow does not justify the very real harm being inflicted upon mothers and children in a secure setting.

Lastly, we are disturbed by the fact that many mothers and children remain in family detention despite serious medical needs. In the past year, we have learned of the detention of children with intellectual disabilities, a child with brain cancer, a mother with a congenital heart disorder, a 14-day-old baby, and a 12-year-old child who has not eaten solid food for two months, among many others. Recently, we learned of a three-year-old child at the Berks County Residential Center who was throwing up for three days and was apparently offered water as a form of medical treatment. It was only after the child began throwing up blood on the fourth day that the facility finally transferred her to a hospital.[3] This is simply unacceptable. We cannot continue to hear reports of serious harm to children in custody and do nothing about it. 

We must prioritize the health and well-being of mothers and children while also prioritizing our enforcement objectives. Detaining mothers and children in jail-like settings is not the answer. We have an opportunity to do the right thing and are confident that DHS has the capacity to honor our Nation’s longstanding commitment both to the protection and well-being of refugee families and to law enforcement and public safety.


Sincerely,
________________________            ________________________                        ________________________
Hon. Zoe Lofgren                  Hon. Lucille Roybal-Allard               Hon. Luis V. Gutiérrez

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Hon. Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Leader                  Hon. Steny H. Hoyer, Democratic Whip
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Hon. John Conyers, Jr.                                              Hon. Charles B. Rangel
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Hon. Marcy Kaptur                                                   Hon. Eliot L. Engel
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Hon. Nita M. Lowey                                                   Hon. José E. Serrano
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Hon. David E. Price                                                   Hon. Rosa L. DeLauro
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Hon. Maxine Waters                                                Hon. Jerrold Nadler
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Hon. Corrine Brown                                                Hon. Gene Green
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Hon. Alcee L. Hastings                                              Hon. Eddie Bernice Johnson
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Hon. Carolyn B. Maloney                                          Hon. Nydia M. Velázquez
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Hon. Lloyd Doggett                                                   Hon. Chaka Fattah
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Hon. Sheila Jackson Lee                                           Hon. Elijah E. Cummings
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Hon. Danny K. Davis                                                 Hon. Diana DeGette
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Hon. Rubén Hinojosa                                                Hon. Adam Smith
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Hon. Gregory W. Meeks                                           Hon. Lois Capps
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Hon. Barbara Lee                                                      Hon. Janice D. Schakowsky
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Hon. Steve Israel                                                       Hon. Rick Larsen
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Hon. Betty McCollum                                                Hon. Adam B. Schiff
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Hon. Linda T. Sánchez                                              Hon. G. K. Butterfield
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Hon. Emanuel Cleaver                                              Hon. Al Green
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Hon. Gwen Moore                                                     Hon. Doris O. Matsui
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Hon. Albio Sires                                                         Hon. Yvette D. Clarke
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Hon. Steve Cohen                                                      Hon. Keith Ellison
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Hon. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr.                           Hon. Jerry McNerney
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Hon. Peter Welch                                                      Hon. Donna F. Edwards
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Hon. Gerald E. Connolly                                           Hon. Ben Ray Luján
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Hon. Chellie Pingree                                                 Hon. Paul Tonko
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Hon. Mike Quigley                                                     Hon. Judy Chu
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Hon. John Garamendi                                               Hon. Theodore E. Deutch
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Hon. David N. Cicilline                                              Hon. Eleanor Holmes Norton
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Hon. Pedro R. Pierluisi                                             Hon. Ruben Gallego
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Hon. Sander M. Levin                                               Hon. Jim McDermott
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Hon. Xavier Becerra                                                 Hon. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott
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Hon. Sam Farr                                                           Hon. Earl Blumenauer
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Hon. Ron Kind                                                           Hon. Loretta Sanchez
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Hon. Michael E. Capuano                                          Hon. Joseph Crowley
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Hon. John B. Larson                                                  Hon. Grace F. Napolitano
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Hon. Susan A. Davis                                                  Hon. Michael M. Honda
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Hon. Raúl M. Grijalva                                                Hon. Tim Ryan
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Hon. Chris Van Hollen                                              Hon. Jared Polis
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Hon. Bill Foster                                                         Hon. Julia Brownley
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Hon. Tony Cardenas                                                 Hon. Lois Frankel
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Hon. Jared Huffman                                                  Hon. Hakeem S. Jeffries
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Hon. Derek Kilmer                                                    Hon. Grace Meng
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Hon. Beto O’Rourke                                                  Hon. Raul Ruiz
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Hon. Mark Takano                                                    Hon. Juan Vargas
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Hon. Robin L. Kelly                                                   Hon. Katherine M. Clark
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Hon. Donald Norcross                                              Hon. Pete Aguilar
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Hon. John Lewis                                                        Hon. Frank Pallone, Jr.
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Hon. James E. Clyburn                                              Hon. Anna G. Eshoo
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Hon. Michael F. Doyle                                               Hon. James P. McGovern
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Hon. Robert A. Brady                                               Hon. Frederica S. Wilson
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Hon. Kathy Castor                                                     Hon. John A. Yarmuth
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Hon. Karen Bass                                                        Hon. Cedric L. Richmond
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Hon. Janice Hahn                                                       Hon. Suzan K. DelBene
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Hon. Donald M. Payne, Jr.                                         Hon. Alan Grayson
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Hon. Dina Titus                                                         Hon. Joaquin Castro
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Hon. Tammy Duckworth                                          Hon. Joseph P. Kennedy, III
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Hon. Daniel T. Kildee                                                Hon. Alan Lowenthal
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Hon. Michelle Lujan Grisham                                   Hon. Mark Pocan
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Hon. Eric Swalwell                                                    Hon. Marc A. Veasey
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Hon. Donald S. Beyer, Jr.                                          Hon. Bonnie Watson Coleman
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Hon. Mark DeSaulnier                                              Hon. Debbie Dingell
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Hon. Ted Lieu                                                            Hon. Mark Takai
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Hon. Norma J. Torres                                               Hon. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan
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Issues: