SAN ANTONIO (May 15, 2020) – The Interfaith Welcome Coalition, a faith-based network dedicated to assisting asylum seekers, refugees and at-risk immigrants, today joined human rights and civil rights advocates demanding that federal immigration halt the renewed separation of children from their families in the midst of a global pandemic.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are telling asylum-seeking parents detained with their children at family detention centers that they can either agree to have their children released without them—or remain jailed together as a family indefinitely.
Among the children are some as young as 12 months old.
ICE reportedly is giving mothers a form that requires an immediate decision on whether to release their child to a sponsor or keep them close in detention. If the mother does not agree to giving away their child, they waive their child’s right to release. Asylum seekers know that parents separated from their children often are never reunited.
“In all religious traditions we are called to care for and protect our children,” said Lenna Baxter, vice-chairperson of IWC. “Separating children from their parents is the opposite of what we believe and should be anathema to anyone holding American values.”
Initial reports suggest that this latest attempt at taking young children is being implemented in all family jails holding asylum seekers. The facilities are neglected, crowded, and unsanitary. In a Pennsylvania facility, for example, all soap dispensers were broken and never fixed while hand sanitizer was located in areas inaccessible to families, making it impossible to follow WHO and CDC guidance for frequent hand washing to avoid infection, according to a recent lawsuit.
The timing of the latest, flagrantly coercive action coincided with a report due today from the Trump Administration in response to the Flores agreement stating that children with parents must be released within 20 days. ICE may be hoping to tell the court that it gave parents the option of having their children released but that parents declined.
“We come into the world as part of a family, and that’s God’s way with us,” said Sister Pat Connolly, a member of IWC’s Advocacy Committee affiliated with Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. “For a government to separate families is a clear violation of God’s will.”
Grassroots organizations, recognizing the recalcitrance of the Federal Government, are petitioning the governors of California, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington to take action to urge ICE to release immigrants and asylum-seekers in detention.
Public health experts predict that – unless ICE drastically reduces the numbers of detained immigrants in its care – once there are five or more cases in a facility then 72-100% of detainees in that facility could contract COVID-19 within 90 days. One immigrant in detention already has died of COVID-19 at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in California.
“As the government official responsible for the health and safety of your state’s residents, I urge you to take all possible actions to press ICE to release immigrants and asylum-seekers detained in [your state] without delay and that all appropriate steps are taken to protect them, facility staff, and the broader public from the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in ICE detention facilities,” read the petition sent to Governors Gavin Newsom, Phil Murphy, Tom Wolf, John Bel Edwards, Greg Abbott and Jay Inslee.
“ICE has a well-documented history of medical abuse and neglect,” the petition says. “We are urging governors to use their public health authority to press ICE and federal immigration detention facilities and county and local jails and prisons to immediately and substantially reduce occupancy in facilities detaining immigrants and asylum-seekers. We hope that they will hear us and act swiftly to save lives.”
The groups signing on the petition include:
- ALDEA – The People’s Justice Center (PA)
- Amnesty International USA (CA, WA, NJ, PA, TX, LA)
- Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) (CA, TX)
- Centro Legal de la Raza (CA)
- Families Belong Together (CA, WA, NJ, PA, TX, LA)
- Human Rights First (CA, WA, NJ, PA, TX, LA)
- Human Rights Watch (CA, WA, NJ, PA, TX, LA)
- Immigrant Defense Advocates (CA)
- Immigration Justice Campaign, an initiative of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council (NJ)
- Innovation Law Lab (CA LA TX)
- ISLA Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy (LA)
- The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (CA)
- National Immigrant Justice Center (CA, WA, NJ, PA, TX, LA)
- Never Again Action (CA, WA, NJ, PA)
- Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (WA)
- OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates (CA, WA, NJ, PA, TX, LA)
- Oxfam America (CA, WA, NJ, PA, TX)
- Physicians for Human Rights (CA, WA, NJ, PA, TX, LA)
- RAICES (TX)
- SPLC Action Fund (LA)
- Women’s Refugee Commission (CA, WA, NJ, PA, TX, LA)