The unacceptable conditions at United States immigration detention centers are constantly being brought to light. Many detainees are refugees in dire need of support. Many are children. Many are not criminals. And yet, they are forced to live as if they were imprisoned, for months at a time. Reports keep surfacing about the abuse and neglect practiced at these detention centers. People are subject to inadequate living conditions, violence, and a lack of sufficient medical care while they wait to be processed into legal status or deported.
In 1993, a Supreme Court ruling (Reno v. Flores) held that undocumented foreign-born children could be released to a parent or lawful guardian while their status is being processed. However, in recent years there has been an influx of refugee migration from Central America. Families fled their homes and violent societies in search of protection and safety. To accommodate this mass migration, the government instituted Family Detention Centers where children are held with their parents. These children are not getting the care that they need. They are malnourished. They get sick and are denied proper medical attention.
These undocumented children came to America for help. We need to help them. Last week, Federal Judge Dolly Gee ordered the prompt release of children held at family detention centers, citing Reno v. Flores. Federal officials will have until October 23, 2015 to comply. The ruling states that children cannot be held for more than 72 hours before being released to a parent or legal guardian while they await their court date. Judge Gee is a child of immigrant parents and has spent much of her career defending immigrants and their civil rights. Her ruling will spare thousands of children the pain and suffering other undocumented children have faced for the past several years.
While it is good that so much focus has been put on repairing the detention center system, I think we need to focus on the bigger picture. Yes, there are people who are subject to mandatory detention for crimes like terrorist activity, controlled substance offenses, and other aggravated felonies. Non-citizens can also receive mandatory detention if they have prior deportations, are a threat to society, or pose a flight risk. But there are too many people currently in detention centers who do not fall into these categories. There are innocent people who are being denied their human rights, and so many of them are children!
Unless an individual is subject to mandatory detention, they should be released on bond within an appropriate time frame. We need to be processing the detainees faster, allowing them to begin their lives instead of holding them in some nightmarish limbo. Instead of spending the money to detain innocent refugees, we need to be training and hiring more immigration judges and staff. We need more judges to sit in on bond hearings. We need more staff to be processing petitions and applications. The backlogs must stop. If foreigners saw that our immigration system was more efficient, more people would seek a path of legal immigration.