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Human Rights Organizations Call on President Obama to Use his Executive Power to End Family Detention Immediately


CONTACT: Esther Portillo (347) 585-7462, esther.portillo1@gmail.com; Nancy Zuniga (310) 433-1997, nzuniga7@gmail.com

Human Rights organizations from around the country denounce the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s recent announcement that the agency will continue to incarcerate women and children from Central America under its controversial family detention program. The coalition of organizations calls on President Obama to use his executive power to bring an end to family detention immediately.

“The practice of detaining women with their children--most of whom are refugees from Central America--is immoral and unconscionable and it must end immediately. The physical and psychological well being of the families is in grave danger,” said Esther Portillo from the Human Right Alliance for Refugee Children and Families. The organization visits families on a weekly basis and has witnessed the rapid deterioration of the health of the families in detention.

To continue detaining women and children does nothing to protect the security of the nation and goes contrary to the principles of human rights. Most of the women and children followed the customs of international law under the 1951 Refugee Convention that require refugees to ask for asylum at the border. Said convention also requires that states must not detain or criminalize those seeking asylum, yet the administration has responded with a punitive policy that detains families as a way to deter future asylum seekers. Several families, including children who arrived as young as 1 month old, have been detained for 11 months. Deprived of their freedom, the children have suffered hair loss, depression, and lack of appetite, all while being denied access to basic medical care.

President Obama did the right thing in 2009 to close the Hutto Family Detention Center, and today has a moral obligation, once again, to end the egregious practice of family detention and to uphold the spirit of the 1951 Convention and of international law. We also urge the Obama Administration to respect the legality and spirit of the Flores Settlement that children should not be detained even if with their caregivers and to negotiate a humane alternative to detention for the hundreds of families at Karnes, Dilley and Berks detention centers immediately.

“The U.S. should recognize that these families are fleeing for their life and that they pose no threat to our communities. Keeping women and children in prison-for-profit at exorbitant taxpayer expense, is an irresponsible waste of taxpayers’ money and it offends the basic American value of keeping families together safe and secure,” said Angela Sanbrano from the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN).

On Monday May 11, mothers at Karnes Detention Center sent a letter to President Obama, revealing the harms of detention. The letter states, “Our children don’t eat, they don’t want to go to school, and they feel bad when they see hundreds of families come and go from this detention center. What worries us the most is that the say that they are going to throw themselves off the top of the building because they won’t let us leave. Other adolescents say that they prefer to tie a sheet around their necks and kill themselves because they no longer want to be detained here. We come fleeing from violence in our home countries, seeking refuge and protection here, but we never thought that they were going to treat us like this. We have been despised, humiliated, deceived, and rejected.”

We agree with U.S. Representatives Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and the several other representatives that are calling on the administration to end family detention. Furthermore, we call for the immediate release of women and children who are being detained and for an end to the family detention program. As signers of this statement, we will continue to press this issue until we get confirmation that the use of family detention either as a deterrent or as a mode of increasing profit is eradicated forever. Migration is not a crime, especially for those seeking asylum.


Human Rights Alliance for Refugee Children and Families- Los Angeles/Texas
Central American Resource Center-Los Angeles
Central American Resource Center- Washington, DC
National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC)
National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)
Black Alliance for Just Immigration- New York
Families for Freedom- New York
Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras (OFRANEH)- New York
Presente.org- National
Red Mexicana de Lideres y Organizaciones Migrantes
Latino Latina Round Table of the Pomona and San Gabriel Valley
Pomona Economic Opportunity Center
Salvadoran American National Network (SANN)
Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA)-Los Angeles
Sister Diaspora For Liberation-New York City, New Jersey, Bay Area, CA
May Day Trans Queer Contingent
Autonomous Communities for Reproductive and Abortion Support (ACRAS)
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
Salvadoran American National Association (SANA)
Homies Unidos- Los Angeles
Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement
TransLatin@ Coalition
Juventud FMLN Sur de California