Based on a Freedom of Information Act request filed in 2010, the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) just released a report showing the U.S. government detained 1,366 immigrant children in adult detention facilities between 2008 and 2012 for more than three days. More than 800 of those children stayed longer than a week in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) prisons meant to hold adults.
ICE detains these children after picking up their immigrant parents who are awaiting deportation proceedings. But according to NIJC, these detentions violate the 1985 Flores v. Reno class action lawsuit, which certified that children must be detained in an age-appropriate facility and “not be detained with an unrelated adult for more than 24 hours.”
“It’s a startling revelation,” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “These children were isolated from access to legal counsel and may have been denied protections under U.S. law. It’s beyond time for Congress to step in and hold DHS accountable for an immigration detention system that has gotten too big and out of control.”
This information, obtained after a federal court settlement forced DHS to release it for specified adult detention facilities, also shows they held 1,000 children longer than a week, detained five children more than a year, and held one for more than a decade, starting at around age 15.
NIJC says, “The data likely underreports how many children were affected because the terms of the legal settlement limited the scope to only 30 of the approximately 200 adult detention facilities with which DHS held contracts at the time.”
“The U.S. government has a responsibility to protect the wellbeing and human rights of all children in the immigration system,” McCarthy said. “Congress and the Obama administration must provide comprehensive oversight to ensure that DHS complies with the Flores agreement, which was intended to ensure that no child suffers in a punitive or dangerous prison environment while they try to navigate America’s complex immigration system.”