CGRS Denounces New Executive Order Expanding the Indefinite Detention of Families

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) denounces the new Executive Order on the separation of immigrant families issued by the White House yesterday. The Order purports to put an end to family separations at the border, and its issuance is a testament to the overwhelming public outcry that arose in response to this inhumane policy. “Clearly, when concerned communities and advocates raise their voices against injustice, they can force even the most hostile administration to back down from its cruel agenda,” said CGRS Director Karen Musalo. “However, the Order offers no solution for the thousands of families who have already been separated and, troublingly, calls for an expansion of the use of family detention.” The Order also seeks to erode critical standards for the care and custody of immigrant children. Family detention is not an acceptable alternative to family separation, and neither children nor immigrants and asylum seekers should ever be subjected to indefinite, unnecessary imprisonment.

The new Executive Order doubles down on the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, under which all adults apprehended at the border – including asylum seekers – are being subjected to criminal prosecution for “illegal” entry or reentry. “This policy remains inhumane and completely unlawful,” said CGRS Co-Legal Director Eunice Lee. “Families and others seeking protection at our border have a legal right to do so, and punishing them in a misguided effort to deter future migration violates our domestic and international obligations to refugees.” The Order also calls for the indefinite detention of immigrant families throughout the course of criminal and immigration proceedings. This will undoubtedly result in the imprisonment of families for months and even years as their cases make their way through our backlogged immigration court system.

Prolonged detention takes an immense toll on immigrant detainees and inflicts particularly severe harms on families and children. Numerous reports have exposed the inhumane conditions and pervasive abuses that plague immigration detention centers. In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security’s own advisory committee, of which CGRS Director Karen Musalo was a member, called on the agency to end family detention, finding that detention is neither necessary nor appropriate for families, and that detention is never in the best interests of children. The indefinite detention of families and asylum seekers also flouts international human rights standards and basic principles of due process. Moreover, detention undermines access to critical legal services, making it substantially more difficult for families seeking protection to present successful claims for relief. There are many alternatives to detention that are far more humane and cost-efficient.

The president has repeatedly attempted to evade responsibility for his own policies, claiming that his Administration is simply following the law. But the Trump Administration enacts its hateful, anti-immigrant agenda – from “zero tolerance,” to family separation, to family detention – entirely by choice. These policies are not required by any statute or court ruling and in fact violate domestic and international laws and fundamental human rights. “If the Administration claims to follow the law, it must follow all laws, including those with which it does not agree,” said CGRS Co-Legal Director Blaine Bookey. “It is unacceptable that the Trump Administration is using the horror of family separation as a vehicle to introduce yet another harmful policy that will expand our abusive system of immigration detention and further traumatize immigrant families.”