The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) continues to denounce the inhumane conditions at immigration detention centers and border holding facilities along the Southern border, which violate federal law and “common decency,” according to the American Bar Association. We urge the federal government to immediately end the detention of vulnerable immigrants, the “zero tolerance” family separation policy, and the denial of due process to those in our custody or seeking our protection.
Recent changes to U.S. immigration policy have placed tens of thousands more immigrants—including children and infants—in detention facilities and unlicensed shelters. Abuse is systemic. There are credible reports, including from the Department of Homeland Security, of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of children and adults in Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection custody. Eyewitnesses detail horrific conditions, such as overcrowding and denial of adequate medical care, shelter, food and clean water, and basic sanitation.
At the same time, new policies like “Remain in Mexico” and “metering” bar vulnerable populations from entering the U.S. to seek asylum at Ports of Entry. Wait times are up to a year. Kidnapping, rape, and murder of those who remain in Mexico is common, forcing many to chance the perilous journey of crossing between Ports of Entry. Most of these families are fleeing unspeakable violence, trafficking, and coercion in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, countries with the world’s highest murder rates.
The Jewish people know firsthand the fatal consequences of turning away desperate refugees without a timely and fair hearing. Our ethical teachings require us to extend the same opportunities to those escaping violence.
A nation’s immigration policy is an expression of its humanity. We seek to protect American values and ideals by reforming the draconian measures currently in place, which negate so many of the democratic principles for which we stand.
- End the detention of asylum seekers, families, and children—with or without their parents. Detaining a family costs between $300-$800 per day, draining funding and resources that could be used to address the humanitarian crisis or pursue real national security threats.
- Reallocate funding from detention to community-based alternatives to detention like case management and legal orientation programs, which are more humane and cost-effective. Under the Family Case Management Program, a pilot program ended in 2017, families were provided resources to help them navigate the asylum application process and court proceedings. The program had a 99.6% appearance rate at court hearings and a 75% appearance rate for deportations, at a cost of just $36 per day per family.
- Reject proposals to remove protections for vulnerable children provided by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) and the Flores Settlement Agreement. Allowing unaccompanied children to be deported more quickly risks returning them to the very violence and exploitation they fled. Undermining the Flores agreement would wrongfully expand family and child detention in jail-like conditions.
- End the “zero tolerance” policy, which remains in force, and immediately reunify all separated families. Separating children inflicts irreparable psychological trauma on both parents and children, many of whom have already experienced trauma.
- Enhance oversight and accountability of immigration enforcement agencies, particularly given the long-term pattern and severity of abuse allegations in immigration detention.
- Immediately release those who pose no risk to the community and improve detention conditions by enacting clear, enforceable standards that include proper medical treatment and access to pastoral care, legal counsel, and legal orientation programs.