House Democrats press Obama on immigrant detention centers

Getty Images

House Democrats are expressing new concerns about how the Obama administration is handling immigrant mothers and children who were among the thousands detained at the southern border this past summer.

In a letter to President Obama, 32 House Democrats decried the government’s construction of new centers to handle the surge of immigrants, and questioned whether people were being held unnecessarily.

ADVERTISEMENT
“At the current rates, within one year this Administration will have increased capacity to detain immigrant women and children by more than 4,000 percent,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who was behind Tuesday's letter, said in a statement.

“As the law requires, there needs to be a better assessment in place to appropriately screen and assess these women and children, many of whom are fleeing violence, torture or persecution in Central America,” she said.

The Democrats also questioned whether the government is properly determining whether detainees would face persecution or abuse if they are returned home.

They said it’s too difficult for families held in the detention centers to win a “credible fear” ruling that allows them to stay in the United States to avoid violence or persecution in their home countries.

“We are concerned that the current application of the credible fear screening process in family detention facilities may be flawed, thus resulting in removal of families to home countries where they face persecution and torture,” they wrote.

Detainees from certain countries such as Guatemala are less likely to see a credible fear ruling in their favor if they are detained in the family centers, the Democrats noted. Credible fear rulings are also more likely to be overturned for people at certain centers, they said.

The letter also raised concerns about the ability of the facilities to offer adequate child care while mothers are dealing with immigration authorities. According to the letter, mothers have had to discuss their credible fear claims in front of their children. When facilities provide child care, it is often administered by guards with no formal training in caring for children.

The lawmakers are also asking for the administration to end its policy of not offering bonds to families in detention — or asking for a very high bond. This is meant to deter future migration, but the letter contends that it fails to do so in cases where women and children are fleeing from abuse.

Instead, they ask that an individual’s flight risk — and their bond — be assessed without regard to the administration’s contention that detaining the families will stop future migration.

The pressure from congressional Democrats comes as the federal government prepares to open a new detention facility in Dilley, Texas. It will be the fourth such facility operated through the Department of Homeland Security. The privately-administered, 2,400-bed facility will ultimately be the nation’s largest.

The facilities are different from many of the sites holding the unaccompanied child migrants who surged at the southern border this summer. Those children were held in facilities managed by the Department of Health and Human Services.